A crackdown on premises which have are primarily operating as poker machine parlours instead of pubs is currently being promoted as part of the authorities’ campaign against the gambling culture in Tararua.
However, the MidCentral District Health Board has shared suspicions that some of the poker machine venues in the district are violating a loophole in the existing requirements that gambling services are not the premises’ main source of income.
Tararua has been reported as the district with the second highest ratio of pokies to people on the territory of New Zealand rural areas. The revenue generated by the controversial poker machines there increased by almost 10% over the past two years, which made a number of addiction groups urge the authorities to impose stricter measures on the machines and effectively reduce them in number, amid an ongoing review of the district council’s policy regarding local gambling venues.
According to Rob Weir, MidCentral medical officer, not only the Tararua District Council’s gambling venue policy needed adjustment, but a review of alcohol regulation that could be used to close the gap in licensing enforcement. Mr Weir further explained that there has been very little change in the number of gambling machines in the district since 2004, a trend which made it obvious that the current policy of the council had not been very effective.
Apart from that, he called for the council to enforce the rules of the Sale and Supply of Liquor Act and Gambling Act 2003 and to make sure that the primary purpose and activity in local pubs is serving alcohol and other refreshments to its customers, and not gambling.
Pokies Should Not Be Primary Source of Income for Tararua Pubs, Campaigners Say
Some rules regarding how to determine the prime purpose of a business venture have been established under case law, and its criteria could be applied under the Gambling Act. So, venues, where poker machines provide the main source of income, should not be provided with class four licences. On the other hand, pubs/bars which are too dependent on revenue generated by poker machines would lose either the machines or their gambling or liquor licences.
According to a MidCentral alcohol licensing officer, there was rarely been someone drinking at the bar at the time when he visited Tararua pubs. There was also at least one person who would be playing the machines while the inspection took place. As revealed by the officer, such inspections were normally carried out between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, but he noted that the situation would probably be the same in the evenings.
A recommendation was also made by the local health board that the Tararua district council drops its sinking lid limit for poker machines from 100 to 60. The council has been recently trying to reduce the number of pokies in the district. Fifteen years ago there were 127 pokies in Tararua, while the beginning of 2019 saw a total of 122 machines in the district. Now, the council has been called to make sure that the number of pokies is considerably reduced in Tararua, so that the exposure of local residents to the detrimental impact of the controversial machines lessens, too.