I didn’t know what to expect entering the council building in Tokoroa in late June for the public hearing of the South Waikato District Council’s (SWDC) class 4 gambling policy review. My first foray into the field and new to the sector, I never knew local government hearings were open to the public and that anyone can make a submission – or how raw and compelling a face-to-face petition directly to council could be.
Class 4 gambling refers to electronic gaming machines (or ‘pokies’) housed in venues outside casinos. This means in clubs, where profits go to the club, or pubs, where they are run by gaming machine trusts and societies registered under the Charitable Trusts Act 1957 and established to provide funding for community initiatives.
SWDC were proposing a sinking lid, an approach with much merit which asserts the Council’s commitment to reducing gambling harm. Its policy states:
Council wishes to reduce the number of Class 4 venues and gambling machines numbers via a continuous sinking lid policy. The reduction in venues and machines will take place by a process of natural attrition as venues cease operating.
To paraphrase, they had seen what the public see: worthwhile projects for sporting or social initiatives which, understandably, they had not questioned. Who would? The reality they reported was one where considerations of customer care were negligible or easily circumvented; the funding model based on a system of inequality that was addictive, tragic and predatory.
The submissions tallied ten for the proposed policy and 98 lobbying for a true sinking lid. The “true” relates to council’s powers to prohibit relocations and mergers, an approach PGF endorses to see the decline of pokies accelerate. Or even move. According to the Department of Internal Affairs there are currently eight venues with 133 pokies in Tokoroa, and four venues with 45 pokies in Putaruru/Tirau – exactly the same number of venues and pokies in South Waikato as there was in March 2013.
It’s since been announced that SWDC voted to retain its proposed policy of a sinking lid which allows for mergers and relocations in some instances. I would ask, if you have exactly the same number of pokies five years on then the lid isn’t really sinking, is it? And if submissions, by weight of numbers or first-hand experience, cannot sway a body elected to represent their community, then what’s really at stake?
The Problem Gambling Library collects resources on all aspects of gambling and problem gambling. The Problem Gambling Library is open to all PGFNZ staff as well as those working and studying in the fields of problem gambling, addictions, and counselling. Members of the public are also free to join (some limitations may apply).
You can visit the online catalogue here or check out our fact sheets for more information on gambling-related topics here.
Tom Irwin is the resident librarian and research extraordinaire at the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand.
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