David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Battle looms over plan to cut pokies

The draft policy calls for a 'sinking lid policy' which would force down the number of machines and venues. Photo / NZ Herald
The draft policy calls for a 'sinking lid policy' which would force down the number of machines and venues. Photo / NZ Herald

Clubs and sports teams are likely to be sought out by the poker machine industry to fight rule changes in Auckland, says one councillor who will vote on the new policy.

Councillor Richard Northey said community organisations which relied on funding from pokie trusts had become ardent defenders of the gambling industry.

The latest battleground for gambling rules is set with the Auckland Council calling for public submissions on a Super City-wide policy.

The draft policy - backed by the Problem Gambling Foundation - calls for a "sinking lid policy" which would force down the number of machines and venues. Auckland currently has 4183 of the nation's 17,670 poker machines.

It comes as Parliament's commerce select committee considers a proposed law which would change the way the industry operates. Thousands of submissions opposing changes came from clubs and sporting bodies after the pokie industry campaigned saying changes would lead to funding cuts.

Adding to the controversy is the pending decision on the proposed International Convention Centre, which would see SkyCity casino funding it in return for 300 extra poker machines and other gambling concessions.

Mr Northey said the casino deal would also be a factor in the minds of many considering the proposed policy. "If there are more at SkyCity it does inevitably mean more gambling-related harm."

He said the potential shift in spending to the casino - which returned 2.5 per cent of money gambled to the community - would also be an issue driving community debate. Poker machines on a Class 4 licence have to return 37 per cent.

Problem Gambling Foundation public health manager Tony Milne backed the sinking lid policy.

"We don't want any more pokie machines in Auckland. They aren't just a 'harmless flutter'. Pokies are dangerous and addictive machines often described as the 'crack cocaine of gambling'."

Mayor Len Brown had previously publicly backed a sinking lid policy while he was mayor of Manukau. A spokeswoman for Mr Brown said he would offer no public view other than to say it was an "incredibly important community issue" which he hoped would result in high levels of public input.

The proposed policy also caps the number of TAB outlets at 43.

Community Gaming Association executive director Brian Corbett said the draft policy was being reviewed.

Information and feedback at: aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/haveyoursay

- NZ Herald

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