Aucklanders are being asked whether they want the number of pokie machines in clubs and pubs, and the number of TABs in the region, to be cut.
The Auckland Council is calling for public submissions on a proposal to create a "sinking lid" to force down the number of machines and cap the number of pokie and TAB venues from Wellsford to Pukekohe. There are more than 4000 pokies and 43 TAB venues across the region now. The proposal does not include the SkyCity casino, which is negotiating with the Government for 300 more pokies in return for funding a massive convention centre.
At the same time, Parliament's commerce committee is considering a proposed law to change the way the gambling industry operates. Thousands of submissions opposing changes came from clubs and sporting bodies after the pokie industry campaigned saying changes would lead to funding cuts for community sports and organisations.
Under the Gambling Act and the Racing Act, all councils must have policies on whether to allow new TAB and new Class 4 gambling venues (essentially, pubs and clubs) in their area.
Councils are tasked with reducing the harm caused by problem gambling as much as possible. The Auckland Council's two proposed policies replace those of the seven previous councils.
What these draft policies can do:
Help restrict the growth of gambling through TABs and pokie venues.
Reduce the risk of harm to families from problem gambling by restricting the number of venues and machines.
What these draft policies can't do:
Deal with casinos, Lotto and Lotto shops, internet or any other forms of gambling. The law does not give councils any authority to regulate these.
Councils cannot decide where or how much of the 'pokie machine' proceeds are distributed to the community.
The council proposal
On TABs, the council says there are 43 venues in its region. The Racing Board must apply to the council before setting up a new standalone TAB venue. There are a further 74 TABs and 17 self-service machines in pubs and clubs, which the council cannot control or limit.
The TAB draft policy proposes:
One set of rules for all Auckland.
TAB venues will be capped at 43. The Racing Board can only set up a new venue if it closes an existing one first.
There will be no restrictions on where new venues can be located other than the requirements of the district plan.
On pokies, the council says there are 305 'pokie machine' venues and more than 4000 machines in Auckland. Machines in pubs and clubs can only be operated by a club to raise funds for itself or by a corporate society to distribute proceeds to community groups and charities.
The draft pokies policy proposes:
One set of rules for all Auckland.
A sinking lid on the number of venues. When one closes another could not open in its place. This will reduce the number of venues over time.
Two or more club venues will be allowed to merge but the number of machines at the new venue will be restricted to 30 or five-sixths of the previous combined number (whichever is lower).
Single clubs will not be allowed to increase their number of machines.
What people are saying
Councillor Richard Northey predicts the pokies industry will lean on clubs and sports teams to fight any rule changes, pointing out that organisations which rely on funding from pokie trusts have become ardent defenders of gambling, as the campaign to Parliament showed.
Mr Northey said SkyCity's negotiations with the Government - for more pokies in return for building a convention centre - would be a factor for many considering the proposed policy. "If there are more at SkyCity it does inevitably mean more gambling-related harm."
The possible shift in spending to the casino - which returned 2.5 per cent of money gambled to the community - would be an issue driving community debate. Poker machines on a pub-club licence have to return 37 per cent.
More than 20 major community and church organisations have endorsed the 'No More Pokies Auckland' campaign, launched with a video of children sharing their hopes and dreams for the future. It aims to encourage people to 'say no to more pokies' and 'choose a sinking lid'.
Tony Milne of the Problem Gambling Foundation says under current laws, a sinking lid is the best option to keep the number of pokie machines down. "A sinking lid means no new licenses can be granted for pokie venues and machines can't be transferred if a venue closes," he says. "That means that over time, the number of venues and pokie machines will reduce."
The previous Manukau and Waitakere councils had sinking lid policies and it would be great to see the regional council follow their lead.
"We don't want any more pokie machines in Auckland," he says. "They aren't just a 'harmless flutter'. Pokies are dangerous and addictive machines often described as the 'crack cocaine of gambling'.
"Most adults (84%) never use pokies and approximately 6% use them once a month or more. Four in ten regular users will have a gambling problem or are at risk of developing one. Of the people who seek help for a gambling problem, over 70% say pokies are their main form of gambling and 80% of those who seek help have suicidal thoughts."
"We know the harm that pokies can cause and don't want them to be part of the future for our children," Mr Milne says.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown publicly backed a sinking lid policy while he was Mayor of Manukau. His spokeswoman said he would offer no public view other than to say it was an "incredibly important community issue" which he hoped would result in high levels of public input.
Brian Corbett, executive director of the Community Gaming Association, says his organisation is reviewing the draft policy.
What can you do?
To view the campaign video and make a submission visit www.NoMorePokies.org.nz
Information and feedback at: aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/haveyoursay