Gamblers pull back on pokies

By Lydia Anderson

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The number of pokie machines operating in Western Bay has also fallen from 750 to 717.
The number of pokie machines operating in Western Bay has also fallen from 750 to 717.

Western Bay gamblers dropped more than $33 million into pokie machines in the last year - the equivalent of about $91,500 a day.

But figures released by the Department of Internal Affairs show the region's total gaming spend was down 1.8 per cent in the year to June - from $34 million the previous year.

The number of pokie machines operating in Western Bay has also fallen from 750 to 717.

The figures come amid a Government proposal to give more pokie machine profits back to local communities, which is finding favour with problem gambling experts, though some question whether the proposal goes far enough.

At present, organisations that distribute pokie proceeds must give 37 per cent back to community groups, and distributed an estimated $300 million in community grants in the 2011-12 financial year, a spokesman for Internal Affairs said.

However, a discussion paper issued by Internal Affairs proposed an increase in the minimum threshold to between 40 and 43 per cent within four years.

Raising thresholds would channel $7 million back into the community for every percentage point increase.

Tauranga Problem Gambling Foundation practice leader Margaret Sloan said she had seen a "steady ebb and flow" of clients over the past year.

Clients' gambling could have a significant impact on relationships with partners, family, and work colleagues, because they borrowed money, pawned property and under-performed at work, she said.

"That causes a lot of disharmony within a relationship."

The review of Class 4 gambling, or gaming machines, aims to make the sector more transparent and fair, and would build on harm reduction changes introduced in a bill sponsored by Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain said he wanted the minimum amount trusts gave away to rise. Many of the big trusts - such as Lion Foundation and New Zealand Community Trust - already gave more than 40 per cent, he said.

New Zealand Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said while he supported the raised threshold, the proposed reforms did not address a critical flaw in the system.

"For far too long we've seen rort after rort, bad practice after bad practice and grants really not reflecting necessarily what community priorities are.

"There is definitely a need for greater transparency in the operation of trusts.

"We've got the same people operating the machines as handing out the money. They're self-appointed people who are doing this with public funds."

While an aspect of Mr Flavell's original bill seeking to ensure 80 per cent of gaming machine profits were returned to the immediate community was scrapped after select committee amendments, the bill did give the Government power to introduce those limits later on.

A threshold of between 60 to 80 per cent was being considered.

Mr Ramsey said imposing limits was a fair proposal.

"We've seen money going out of our poorest communities into our wealthier communities and causes, and that's just inequitable and inappropriate."

additional reporting Issac Davison

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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