The so-called “sinking lid” policy on poker machines numbers, whose objective is to reduce the spending on pokies and the gambling-related harm in communities across New Zealand, seem ineffective. Despite the introduction of the policy in 2013 in the rural District of Tararua, proceeds from gaming machines in 2018 have increased by nearly 10 per cent on an annual basis.
Councillors in Tararua, which is located in south-east corner of New Zealand’s North Island, have expressed their doubt in the effectiveness of the sinking lid approach they took in 2013 regarding the numbers of Class 4 Gaming Machines. It does not allow the addition of new machines unless their total numbers across the district fall under 100. Currently, there are 122 poker machines in Tararua, which is a slight decline from 2012 when the district reached a peak of 134 machines. Still, gambling venues across the local communities generated gaming revenue of $3.8 million in 2018, up 9.7 per cent from the previous year.
On March 27, the District Council approved its draft policy on gambling venues and is expected to be reviewing different measures until May 10. Hearings may be held on May 29, councillors said. According to statistics, with its 122 pokies, Tararua has the second highest numbers of gaming machines per capita in New Zealand. It is home to 0.8 per cent of all pokies in the country and only 0.37 per cent of the nation’s entire population.
The large share of the national total could be explained with the fact that while Tararua has cut down the pokies numbers by only 12 from 2012 to 2019, other districts in the country have been more active in this department, council’s strategy and policy adviser Malcolm Thomas explained. In addition, there are a total of 11 gambling venues in the district, down from 15 in 2004 when the local government adopted its original gaming policy. If the number of venues remains the same, no change in the spending on gambling machines is expected, some councillors commented.
Problem Gambling Group Calls for a Cap on Gambling Venues
The sinking lid rule, which was first introduced in 2013, will remain, councillors have decided. Currently, it applies to the numbers of gaming machines in the Tararua district but not to the number of gambling venues, the Problem Gambling Foundation says. The support group demands more restrictions to be adopted by the local government in order to limit the gambling-related harm caused by pokies.
According to Malcolm Thomas, many of the gambling machines are located in lower socio-economic areas. Gambling, he suggested, has a detrimental effect on poor and disadvantaged communities where people simply cannot afford this type of entertainment. This tendency was confirmed by Bonnie Lovich-Howitt, counsellor for the Problem Gambling Foundation, who said that the national statistics showed the lower-income areas like Tararua had more pokies on average. New Zealand’s 2013 census revealed that the median income in the district was $25,100 compared to the national average of $28,500.
Lovich-Howitt explained that the average problem gambler would typically affect up to 10 other people in a negative way. Very few of those with gambling addiction would seek help, she added. Other statistics revealed that while in 2014, there were 10 Tararua residents who received problem gambling support from social services, their numbers fell to only 5 individuals in 2015.