The largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, Christchurch, is set to remain one of the cities featuring the most restrictive poker machine policies in the country after a number of anti-gambling campaigners and gambling addiction groups have asked local authorities to retain the crackdown on pokies.
The City Council has decided not to bring changes in its existing policy that regulates gambling and TAB venues, including the number and location of non-casino gambling facilities. The current Christchurch gambling policy has been in place since 2004 but, under the gambling laws, has to be reviewed by local authorities every three years.
However, the City Council’s decision not to change the already existing rules did not make everyone happy. For some time, the Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand has been requesting Christchurch authorities to bring more relaxed rules to gambling machines.
On behalf of the Association, Jarrod True asked the City Council to hold some public consultations before making a decision to stick to the current poker machine policy. Mr True asked the Council to replace the existing sinking lid policy with a more relaxed one, featuring some limits to the machines. He also called for the local authorities to allow operators to relocate their poker machine licences to other sites.
High Poker Machine Gambling Participation Rates Found Concerning by Christchurch Authorities
As mentioned above, the so-called sinking lid policy has been in place in Christchurch since 2004. Under the provisions, the competent authorities are suspended from issuing new operating licences that would allow gambling in local clubs and pubs. Also, the existing poker machine licences are not allowed to be moved to another location in the city.
For the time being, there are 82 club and pub gambling venues in Christchurch, with a total of 1,291 pokies in operation. Currently, the poker machines in the city are fewer in number than in 2004 when there were 2,158 pokies in operation. The number of gambling venues declined by 50% during the same period, from 164 to 82.
According to a City Council report, although there was a decline in the number of both gambling venues and poker machines in Christchurch, there are still more pokies per capita in the city than the national average. The report has found there are 3.3 machines per 1,000 residents in Christchurch. The cities of Dunedin and Wellington sit on the national average of 2.9 pokie machines per 1,000 residents, while Auckland has 1.9 poker machines per 1,000 residents.
Another thing that was found concerning, was the fact there are many people in Christchurch who are getting problem gambling treatment. The report has found that with the city accounting for 8% of the total population of New Zealand, 10% of the overall number of people who were treated for gambling addiction in 2020 in the country originated from Christchurch.
Christchurch residents spent NZ$77 million while gambling on pokies in 2019.
Pro-gambling groups have been insisting that online gambling has been growing in popularity and further limitations imposed on poker machines by the City Council were actually holding recreational players back, rather than gambling addicts.