The trusts responsible for gaming machines in Wanganui say the district council's sinking lid policy needs to go, as does its policy on machine relocation.
That was the thrust of arguments put to the first day of the three-yearly review of the council 2008 Class 4 (Gambling Venue) policy and NZ Racing Board policy. It received 249 submissions, with 38 submitters wanting to be heard.
The council set aside April 15 and April 29 to hear submissions and is expected to adopt its policies mid-June. In January the council opted to consider a relocation policy and look at creating distinct policies for pokies and the racing board.
The council is wrestling with the negative effect of gambling on the community on the one hand and the grants local organisations rely on from gambling profits on the other.
Some submitters argued for relocation, to concentrate the machines in the central business district.
Among the high-profile organisations opposing the sinking lid policy are Wanganui Volunteer Coastguard, Royal NZ Coastguard and those trusts which operate the pokies. Pub Charity argued to allow relocation of pokies.
Graeme Ambler of Pub Charity said its grants provided greater benefits to the Wanganui community than harm.
"Research has shown that reducing the number of pokies doesn't have an impact on problem gambling issues," Mr Ambler said. The NZ Community Trust opposes the sinking lid policy and its representative, Angela Paul, said the council needed to strike a balance between those who use pokies and the benefits gathered through grants.
Ms Paul said in 2012, only 21 Wanganui people sought help for gambling addiction and that "good harm minimisation plans" were already in place in most venues.
George Darroch, from the Problem Gambling Foundation, told the hearing that only a law change increased the amount of money gambling trusts had to return to communities.
"There's still a very high level of money put through pokies even though the number of machines was dropping. We don't believe these machines generate the type of activity Wanganui would want to have anyway," Mr Darroch said.
Julia Herewini, from Safer Whanganui, said a referendum had shown that the community favoured a sinking lid policy.
Caroline Norton, owner of Caroline's Celtic which was destroyed by fire last September, argued for relocation.
Ms Norton said her restaurant-bar had nine gaming machines before the fire.
"They were not a huge part of our income but they were a big part of our total entertainment package," she said.
Jarrod True, from the NZ Racing Board, said the board supported the separation of the gaming machine policy and racing board policy. He added the board also favoured relocation and suggested council cap pokies at the current 18 venues and 257 machines.
"What is the harm in allowing relocation if council has discretionary powers?" he asked.
Jigsaw Whanganui supported the sinking lid policy but spokesman Tim Metcalfe acknowledged pokies created a dilemma and many organisations took the "pragmatic approach" and accepted the funding.
Options for consideration
- Do not grant consents for any new Class 4 gambling venues, which means no relocation.
- Consider a "permissive" policy which allows relocation of pokies in certain circumstances.
- Consider a "prescriptive" policy which sets certain criteria allowing a relocation, for example as the result of a fire at the present venue.