Tackling compulsive gambling in Wellington is likely to happen soon, especially at a time when the full effects of the coronavirus pandemic in New Zealand are yet to be assessed.
Tamatha Paul, the City Councillor of Wellington, is set to present a sinking lid policy for the pokie machines in the city at a council meeting today. The sinking lid proposal means that the local competent authorities will not issue any new licences for pokies. Also, if the venue offering pokies ceases operation, the machines are not permitted to be transferred to a new venue or owner.
For the time being, there are 633 pokie machines in the city and a total of 938 pokies across the Wellington region.
The proposal that is being presented by the City Councillor suggests reducing the number of pokie terminals in Wharangi/Onslow-Western and Pukehinau/Lambton zones by 87 and changing the zones, so ward boundaries are also reflected. Apart from that, the new sinking lid policy unveiled by Ms Paul seeks to reinstate an old clause under which non-designated premises in the city are prevented from hosting pokie machines.
Pokie Machines Have Detrimental Impact on Local Communities, Anti-Gambling Campaigners Say
According to reports, class 4 gambling that is represented by pokie machines situated in local pubs and clubs provided approximately NZ$61 million to various sectors in the Wellington region, including education, health, sports, environment preservation and arts.
Without the funding provided to the coffers, the city council shared in its Strategy and Policy Committee agenda, that it could be asked to provide funding and financial support to local clubs and organisations that are otherwise funded by poker machines tax revenue.
However, some anti-gambling campaigners from groups that actually rely on this kind of funding have shared concerns regarding the newly-proposed sinking lid policy.
The chief executive officer of Sport Wellington, Phil Gibbons, explained that local people should become more aware of the unintended effects that the reduced funding would have on the communities. He explained that the city’s sport and recreation sector was very much dependent оn that funding so that active recreation and sports are able to occur at the community level. Mr Gibbons further noted that during the coronavirus lockdown, when pokie machines funds were not available, the City Council saw proof that lack of gambling funds would have serious negative consequences for the entire community.
The newly-proposed sinking lid policy was backed by the Problem Gambling Foundation. The problem gambling charity’s CEO Paula Snowden reminded that controversial pokie machines were taking money from people who could not afford to lose it, so they were causing more harm to the community than the positive impact they had on the region. Problem gambling has been among the main reasons not only for financial harm but also relationship and family breakups, so the supporters of the sinking lid policy say the implementation of such restrictions would be a small but necessary step to reducing gambling-related harm in Wellington.