Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Pokie profits for pubs slammed

Warning of lift in problem gambling but publicans say changes would increase money for communities.

Photo / Christine Cornege
Photo / Christine Cornege

The Problem Gambling Foundation and Opposition parties have put the boot into proposals by pub and bar owners that they be allowed to take profit on gaming machines, warning the measures would result in increased problem gambling.

But industry group Hospitality NZ says its proposed changes to the Gambling Act would increase the amount of poker machine money returned to communities, who would retain control over gaming machine numbers and location via local authorities.

Hospitality NZ wants the law changed to introduce a commission-based payment system for venues, allowing them to take 16 per cent of poker machine profits. At present they are only permitted to take enough to cover their expenses.

It also wants the removal of the requirement for gaming trusts to return 37 per cent of profits to the community, replacing that with a requirement to return all money after tax and expenditure which would be capped under its proposals.

The proposals include giving hosts the ability to transfer or even sell gaming machine licences to other operators.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said the commission-based profit proposal cut across the original intent of the Gambling Act which permitted gaming machines in bars as a means of generating funds for a community.

"Under this, a commission-based system, apart from the incentive to maximise revenue at the expense of problem gamblers and gamblers generally, what you're doing there is saying this is a business enterprise."

Labour's Internal Affairs spokeswoman, Ruth Dyson, said allowing the transfer of gaming machine licences "would directly undermine the informed decision-making processes of local councils".

"It would see pokies moved from low-profit areas into areas already battling with problem gambling."

But Hospitality NZ gaming advocate Reg Hennessy said the changes were "critical to ensure that the sector was fairly remunerated for raising significant funds for the community".

Mr Hennessy said replacement of the 37 per cent minimum return to the community meant there was likely to be more money available in grants. " ... it will increase money to the community by somewhere between 3 and 6 per cent."

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said a number of Hospitality NZ's proposals aligned with the aims of his Gambling Harm Reduction members bill which is being considered by Parliament.

However, the commission-based payments for bar owners was a real concern from a harm minimisation point of view, he said.

Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain, who is on holiday in Europe, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

- NZ Herald

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