Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: We're relying on money poured through pokies

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The latest Pub Charity advertisement, promoting the $20,186,931 distributed to good causes over the past six months, has a certain similarity to the advertising blitzkrieg being conducted by the cigarette industry. Photo / Christine Cornege
The latest Pub Charity advertisement, promoting the $20,186,931 distributed to good causes over the past six months, has a certain similarity to the advertising blitzkrieg being conducted by the cigarette industry. Photo / Christine Cornege

The latest Pub Charity advertisement, promoting the $20,186,931 distributed to good causes over the past six months, has a certain similarity to the advertising blitzkrieg being conducted by the cigarette industry. Both try to distract us from the distinctly unpleasant underbellies of their respective industries.

Big Tobacco, in its promotion, actually admits it peddles a product that, to quote the health campaigners, "is the only consumer product that will kill half its users when used as intended".

The advertising skips around this awkward truth, arguing their campaign against plain packaging is a fight for freedom of speech. That if they get nobbled, then, shock horror, booze could be next.

Pub Charity chief executive Martin Cheer, in last Sunday's advertisement, adopted a similar approach. If Auckland Council carries through plans to reduce the number of community-based pokie machines, he claimed that "charitable donations" that are "critical for causes from air rescue to opera" will be in jeopardy.

He said Auckland Council was about to feed community groups and charitable organisations "a super size pile of bull about the future of charitable gaming machines in their territory" and that staff were using incorrect and misleading statistics to persuade community boards that "gaming machine funding is not that important or effective".

Mr Cheer's comments are just a rehash of an earlier statement he issued in May, but they did draw my attention once more to where Pub Charities funds come from.

In the Auckland-Manukau area, for example, $970,910 was redistributed into the area from the pokie turnover from just two bars, Happy Days in Manukau and Tactics Sports Bar, Highland Park.

Both claim 18 machines, Happy Days advertising "a high comfort modern gaming experience featuring 18 of the latest technology machines ... " Its advertising claims to have raised $1.5 million in the past 12 months.

Exactly how much goes through these two bars is unclear. Gambling regulations only require 37.12 per cent of gross proceeds to be redistributed for charitable purposes. In addition, the source of $4.5 million donations to national causes over the past six months such as the Arthritis Foundation ($350,000), NZ Symphony Orchestra ($100,000), Spirit of Adventure Trust ($500,000) is not identified.

Mr Cheer is upset at the "willingness of [Auckland Council] politicians to throw a charitable model of funding distribution under a bus while extolling the virtues of private ownership and profits going to shareholders".

His concern seems to be that the council will reduce the number of pokie machines from local pubs and support an increase in machines at the casino.

Certainly the council is working on introducing a unified "sinking lid" on poker machines across the region, but as far as I can ascertain, this isn't part of a deal to allow more at the casino, just a continuing concern for their proliferation through poor communities.

Like the tobacco bosses, Mr Cheer avoids the health issue that dogs his industry and is driving the council's "sinking lid" policy. He's not the only one. All of us who enjoy the fruits of the handouts from the cash laundered through the pubs and bars of the land - disproportionately concentrated in the poorer communities - turn a blind eye as well.

A report received by Auckland Council last month, Community Funding: A focus on Gaming Grants, estimated Auckland cultural, sporting and recreational groups collected around $55 million in pokie grants in 2011. Of the 182 organisations that responded to the survey, 76 per cent didn't believe anyone in their organisation had concerns or were uncomfortable about the source of funds. Half saw it as an easy way of getting money and about the same proportion said they wouldn't survive without it.

The report did record that around half admitted "there was a moral dilemma in taking the funding. Key concerns were the impact of gambling harm on the community, and some were concerned that the money was being taken out of the communities in which it was generated, which were among the poorest communities".

Two years ago, the former chief executive of the Community Gaming Association, Francis Wever, wrote to the Minister of Internal Affairs claiming that corrupt behaviour in his own industry was "all-pervasive and pernicious" with "endemic non-compliance".

This year we read of how the Otago Rugby Union bought three South Auckland pubs then siphoned $5 million in pokie profits out of the areas - mainly Manurewa - to help prop up the failing Dunedin sporting body.

What's protecting the pokie industry from reform is that it props up respectable New Zealand.

Everything from grand opera to Girl Guides to pony clubs to play centres to women's refuges, rely on pub gamblers continuing to feed their hard-earned cash into these bottomless machines.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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