Sports clubs fight to save pokie funding

By Brendan Manning

The Hawke's Bay Roller Derby - concerned it could have its wheels taken out from underneath the organisation - has lobbied the Government against a proposed law change affecting pokies proceeds.

A roller derby submission says funding from charitable gaming trusts provides invaluable funds for "amateur sporting equipment and services" for the group's members.

"Without this funding we would be severely disadvantaged or not able to exist at all."

The New Zealand Rugby Union warned last week that amateur rugby clubs will buckle or be forced to raise players' fees by 500 per cent if gambling proceeds are cut under the proposed law change.

The roller derby submission says that as an organisation benefiting from the funding, it opposes the bill and does not believe local councils should control the issuing of gaming licences.

"Gaming machines have been in pubs in New Zealand for a long time. Pubs have been at the heart of our community for even longer.

"Most people play machines without any problems. The money that the machines generate for organisational benefits is important and can be critical to continuing social good that is contributed to the community."

From March 31 to June 30, $3.87 million was spent at gaming machines in the Hastings district and $4.1 million in Napier City.

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell's bill limits the way pokie proceeds can be distributed and phases out the "pokie trusts" which manage gambling money.

Mr Flavell wants to drastically reduce problem gambling, which disproportionately hurts Maori and Pacific communities.

NZRU chief Steve Tew said 22 per cent of rugby clubs' funding came from gaming machine money, and removing this lifeline would seriously undermine grassroots sport.

Sports clubs could no longer rely on "cake stalls and sausage sizzles".

The bill has attracted 4718 submissions from concerned individuals, community groups and recipients of the pokies' profits.

A submission on the bill from Esther Mitchell said: "I am in favour of this bill, because I know how addictive gambling can be. I've seen other people waste their life and money on pokie machines. If we could get rid of pokie machines altogether that would be even better, and this bill would help towards that."

Punters lose $2.3 million every day to non-casino pokies.

About $856 million was spent at non-casino gaming machines in the 2010-11 financial year, according to the Department of Internal Affairs.

Mr Flavell has said he has no intention of stamping out gambling, but wants to make the distribution of gaming proceeds fairer.

One of his main concerns was that pokies created a transfer of wealth from poor areas to wealthy areas.

The ratio of pokies to people in poorer regions is 1 to 75 compared with 1 to 425 in richer areas.

To combat this, the bill would ensure that 80 per cent of gambling proceeds returned to the region from which the money was lost.

National sporting groups criticised the proposal, saying it prevented them from centralising their funds and redistributing it nationwide.

Mr Flavell argued that the leftover 20 per cent of gambling proceeds which were not invested in the immediate area could be used for nationwide distribution.

The Commerce Committee is hearing submissions on the bill and is due to report back in November.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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