City pokies take $28m a year

By John Cousins

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The $28.2 million lost by Tauranga gamblers last year to pokie machines was equivalent to the amount that Tauranga Moana tribe Ngati Ranginui will receive from its Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

Iwi board member Tommy Kapai Wilson used next Thursday's historic settlement between Ngati Ranginui and the Crown to highlight the amount being lost to city gaming machines each year.

"It is a wake-up call for Maori," Mr Wilson told the Bay of Plenty Times after his passionate speech to Tauranga City Council yesterday.

About a third of city gamblers were Maori.

He was one of three speakers who addressed the council before it decided how to respond to Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell's private member's bill to reduce the harm caused by gambling.

Mr Wilson supported the aims of the bill, saying he had decided to use the coincidence of Ngati Ranginui's $28 million Treaty settlement to highlight the magnitude of the city's gambling problem.

The other speakers were Pub Charity CEO Martin Cheer, representing the trusts which operate pokie machines and distribute the profits, and Problem Gambling Foundation CEO Graeme Ramsey, representing gambling addicts.

With pokie machines programmed to pay out an average of 85 per cent, Tauranga gamblers were feeding in about $515,000 each day to get back $438,000 - leaving an average daily profit of $77,260 from the city's 563 slot machines.

Mr Flavell's bill proposes to return the profits from pokies to the communities from which the money was gambled, and make councils responsible for managing the process.

The council supported returning profits to the community in which the money was gambled, adding that the organisation responsible for operating the gaming machines should be separate from the organisation which distributed the profits.

But Mayor Stuart Crosby opposed the council becoming the agency responsible for operating the machines and distributing the profits.

"I don't want to go near the council becoming involved in this industry. It is not our core business," he said.

Mr Crosby said councils could not work as efficiently as the private sector because of the laws controlling local authorities.

He did not want the administration of pokies machines to become a bureaucracy within a bureaucracy because it would reduce the amount returned to the community.

Mr Wilson said he had watched the damage done to his small rural community of Te Puna by the machines. He had done his own study on the issue and produced some figures.

He said that close to $1 million was spent every year on pokies by Te Puna people, with 100 families spending an average of $100 a week. Families were going without the things they needed to be spending their money on, and it had a ripple effect across the whole community.

Mr Wilson said he had looked at the grants given back to Te Puna by the gaming trusts and found that 90 per cent of the money went to organisations that had nothing to do with Te Puna.

He said pokie machines generated a false sense of goodwill. It was "misery money" generated from robbing the poor to pay for projects put together by those who were successful in putting together grant applications.

"Until we put the money back into the grassroot communities it came from, we will continue to see the poor getting poorer," he said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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