Pokies a mayoral dilemma

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CHALLENGE: Dr Lance O'Sullivan putting the heat on Far North mayoral candidates over the damage done by poker machines.
CHALLENGE: Dr Lance O'Sullivan putting the heat on Far North mayoral candidates over the damage done by poker machines.

Kaitaia GP Dr Lance O'Sullivan had a blunt message for the mayoral candidates in Kaitaia on Saturday - if they could or would not address the problems caused by poker machines, they would have to take responsibility for preventable diseases and even deaths.

The Far North had 341 poker machines, a much higher number in terms of population than any other Northland community, which collectively took $3.5 million out of the local economy every year. The majority of the machines, which were the "method of choice" for the majority of problem gamblers, were in poorer communities.

"What, as mayoral candidates, would you do?" he asked.

"Far North families could buy a lot of bread, shoes, warm homes and prescriptions for $3.5 million.

"If you are not prepared to do anything, preventable diseases and even deaths will occur on your watch."

Only one candidate, Peter Furze, who is seeking a seat on the district council, was totally behind Dr O'Sullivan. He said the community could rise up and get rid of poker machines, adding that there would be "trouble at the mill" if members of the Look Up Te Hiku team were elected to the council and Te Hiku Community Board.

Bronwyn Hunt (Northland Regional Council) said Kaitaia had the country's second-highest rate of earnings going into poker machines, and while she didn't know how to stop that she would be keen to look at what might be done.

Johnny Wilkinson (DHB) said the community had to stop holding its hand out for money (derived from gambling), but the mayoral candidates were more circumspect.

Ann Court said she believed in democracy, and that many recreational activities relied on funding from gambling. The issue would be up for debate in the next council term, however, and she would keep an open mind.

Wayne Brown said gambling proceeds had contributed $500,000 towards the cost of building Te Ahu, which he thought was money well spent. He would be happy to spend time with problem gamblers to help them make better choices, but poker machine takings rocketed in the summer; "That's Aucklanders leaving their money behind, and that's good," he said.

John Carter said there was no black or white. He was aware of the impact of poker machines, but could not commit to putting a stop to that as Mayor.

Rueben Porter argued that drugs did more harm than gambling. A Mayor could not ban poker machines but could look at measures to reduce their impact.

Sarah Watson said the reality of poker machines was that some people made bad choices.

- Northland Age

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