Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Forum backs unified pokies cap

Councillors support sinking lid scheme to cut machine numbers across Super City

The new Auckland Super City has taken the first step towards a unified "sinking lid" on poker machine numbers across the region.

The council's social and community development forum voted unanimously last night to support a sinking lid that would cut pokies gradually as existing venues close or move.

The five councillors who stayed for the vote, plus Maori Statutory Board member Tony Kake, voted for the tightest option they were offered - a sinking lid that would not even allow existing venues to relocate, a regime that applied only in Manukau and Waitakere before the Super City was formed two years ago.

"Sinking lid means just that, it's either a sinking lid or it's not," said forum chairwoman Cathy Casey.

However, right-leaning Communities and Residents councillors George Wood and Dick Quax left the meeting before the vote. The policy still needs to be considered by other council committees before a special consultative procedure from November to January, with final decisions to take effect in mid-2013.

The previous Auckland City Council had a sinking lid but allowed relocations. North Shore, Rodney and Papakura allowed new venues as long as pokie numbers stayed below regulated "caps", and Franklin District had an open policy for new venues.

Council policy analyst Michael Sinclair told the forum that a majority of the 21 local boards supported sinking lids in their areas, either in their local board plans or through input to a council submission on Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell's bill that would give councils power to reduce the number of pokie venues.

He said Auckland punters lost $247 million last year in 4242 poker machines across the region, excluding the SkyCity casino.

The only disagreement at the meeting was over whether clubs such as bowling clubs and Returned Services Associations should be exempted from the proposed ban on relocations.

Mr Sinclair said many clubs faced dwindling memberships and might need to merge to survive.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said the council should not get "too totalitarian". She suggested clubs that merged should be able to move their pokies provided that the total numbers in the new venue were less than the total in the previous separate venues.

But Waitakere councillor Sandra Coney said a merging club should not be allowed to bring its pokies from one venue into a new combined facility that was previously "clean".

- NZ Herald

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