Committee addressed on community pokie law change

By Abby Gillies

File Photo / Alan Gibson
File Photo / Alan Gibson

Growing up in Auckland's Papakura, Nelson Wahanui watched his parents' gambling problem spiral out of control when pokie machines were introduced.

He doesn't know exactly how much they lost gambling several nights a week, but said the introduction of the machines allowed them to spend more and faster than they ever had before.

More needs to be done to warn people about the detrimental effects of problem gambling, he said.

"What I felt in terms of my parents is they were very vulnerable to pokies and that form of gambling," he told a Parliamentary Select Committee in Auckland today.

"It's similar to fishing stories, you only hear about the good times."

Mr Wahanui was among speakers to address the committee on a proposed law change aimed at reducing the community harm caused by pokie machines.

The consultation is part of changes proposed in Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell's Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill.

The bill aims to give communities more control over where pokies are located and how the proceeds are used.

It would mean local authorities work with communities to reduce or eliminate pokie machines from suburbs and towns where they are causing particular harm.

Mr Wahanui said pokie profits should be used to help children of problem gamblers and there should be warnings on machines informing people about the harm gambling could cause.

"There's no message that confronts the gambler before they play saying these things cause harm."

Many of those making submissions today were representatives of local boards, RSAs, health organisations and sports clubs who supported aspects of the bill aimed at reducing harm but disagreed with the proposal to give local politicians control of funding allocation.

The committee was told the number of pokie machines nationally was declining, from 18,600 two years ago to 17,900 this year.

Some submitters said they could lose a significant part of their revenue if the law was changed, with several saying internet gambling was a bigger problem that needed addressing.

The committee will hear further submissions at sessions around the country before a second reading of the bill, scheduled for November.

- APNZ

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