Liz Koh: Pokie law may hurt charities

By Liz Koh

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A gambling bill which will change how the proceeds of gambling are managed and distributed is in the process of being debated.

The Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill will give councils the power to eliminate or reduce pokies at a venue if the public feels they are harmful, and replace corporate societies that distribute proceeds with local committees and ensure that 80 per cent of gambling proceeds are returned to the local community.

These changes are being driven by the need to address problem gambling, particularly in lower socio-economic groups.

There is a cost to the proposed changes, however. Profits from gambling machines are one of the largest sources of funding for charitable organisations. Cut back on gambling and you cut back on charities who are working to improve the well-being of a community including, ironically, the victims of problem gambling. Problem gambling should be addressed at its root cause, as well as by limiting the number of pokies.

Revenue from gambling needs to be kept to a level that communities feel is acceptable, but other funding lines should be put in place, at least in the short term, to preserve the work of organisations that have relied on grants funded by gambling.

Making grants to charities is a specialist field. How does the grant-maker decide which charities are worthy of funding and which aren't? Should the available money be spread evenly in small amounts among a large number of charities or given in a few large amounts to projects that will really make a difference? How can local communities decide what charitable support is required?

Grant-making should be done by committees with the skills and local knowledge required to ensure funds are directed to the charities that have the most beneficial impact on the local community.

- Hamilton News

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