John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Council votes on pokie numbers

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The number of potential pokie machines in Tauranga has been reduced.
The number of potential pokie machines in Tauranga has been reduced.

The number of pokie machines potentially available to Tauranga gamblers has been slashed by the city council.

A new slimmed down population-based cap on pokies has removed a cushion that allowed an additional 273 gambling machines to be installed in Tauranga.

The council voted 6-4 to lower the ratio of pokies to population, from one machine per 147 Tauranga people to one machine per 220 people. The smaller cap was close to the actual 541 pokies now operating in the city, whereas the old ratio allowed 821 machines.

Yesterday's decision fell short of the absolute sinking lid policy sought by the Salvation Army and the Problem Gambling Foundation.

Councillor Steve Morris opposed the population-based cap, saying it did not reduce the harm caused by pokies.

He said the sporting organisations that relied on funding from the gaming trusts would not have been affected by a sinking lid policy. "It would take decades for the number of machines to reduce to a level that it affected these organisations."

One of the gambling trusts produced evidence that showed a reduction in machines led to a reduction in harm, he said.

Councillor John Robson said it was a nonsense to say that changing the ratio for 300 machines that did not exist was reducing harm. "It seems to me that we are effectively doing nothing, and going against the spirit of the Act to reduce harm."

However, Councillor Leanne Brown said there were plenty of measures in place to reduce gambling harm.

Mayor Stuart Crosby said the policy was well balanced. He argued there would always be people that became addicted to gambling, and there was a trend to internet gambling that the council could not manage.

Opposing the move to limit the number of licensed machines to one per 220 people were councillors Rick Curach, Steve Morris, Catherine Stewart and John Robson. Supporting were Mayor Stuart Crosby and councillors Leanne Brown, Kelvin Clout, Matt Cowley, Bev Edlin, Bill Grainger. Cr Gail McIntosh was on leave of absence.

Salvation Army's Tauranga Bridge and Oasis manager Darryl Wesley said the council's decision was definitely better than the status quo, but a total cap would have been great.

"We are supportive of anything that cuts access to gaming machines, but we would really love to see a sinking lid policy ... we struggle to see what positives they bring to the city."

Problem Gaming Foundation communications director Andree Froude said Tauranga had rapid growth, which meant the number of machines could increase. Pokies were highly addictive which was why they caused so much harm.

"I don't agree with the population cap. Pokies cause so much harm to so many people."

Pokie machine gambling in Tauranga:

* $30 million sucked out the city in 2015

* Average spend per person aged 18 and older $348.25

* Tauranga ranked 12th out of NZ's 73 councils for average spend

Source: Problem Gambling Foundation

- Bay of Plenty Times

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