When Belinda Sullivan sees the bright lights of a pokie machine saying "jackpot" her breath quickens and it takes everything inside her to turn away.

Sullivan is a former gambling addict. The Tauranga woman hasn't touched a gaming machine in six years. But this was a constant battle because pokies were "everywhere", she said.

When Tauranga City Council announced this month it was considering adopting a sinking lid policy on the gaming machines, Sullivan - a mum of three - was elated.

"You can't go for a meal. You can't even take your kids tenpin bowling because they are there.

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"I see the lights, the jackpot going, it really takes a lot for me to still not have that urge to go in."

Sullivan said there were "too many" gaming machines in the city, and the ease of access to them was a major problem.

As of September 30, Tauranga had 36 gaming venues with a total of 515 machines - and 40 per cent of Tauranga's gambling venues were located within the city's most deprived areas.

Outside of Auckland, Tauranga has more TAB venues with gaming machines than anywhere else in New Zealand. Auckland has 14, Tauranga has five.

Under the proposed changes, the council will not allow new or additional gaming machines or gaming venues. Existing machines and venues could still operate but not be replaced.

Sullivan said this was "bloody brilliant".

"I feel funny saying that because a lot of not-for-profit organisations get funding through the pokies. I know how hard it is for them, but we've got to do something.

"It doesn't just hurt you. It hurts your whole family."

However, chief executive of Pub Charity, Martin Cheer, did not believe a sinking lid policy worked.

An August report into the social impacts of gambling showed Pub Charity was one of Tauranga's largest contributors. In 2017/18, the organisation paid more than $2.1 million in local grants.

"The idea that prohibiting limited access is nonsense. In 2018 you are as close as a smartphone away from accessing pretty much anything you want," he said.

Pokies will become a fewer and fewer in Tauranga, if the city council has its way. Photo / file
Pokies will become a fewer and fewer in Tauranga, if the city council has its way. Photo / file

Cheer was concerned the sinking lid proposal would only encourage more people to gamble online, in which "everybody misses out". There was no GST, there was no supervisor and there were no community dividends, he said.

Department of Internal Affairs statistics showed Tauranga gamblers spent more than $34m last year, an increase of $1.6m from 2016. About $8m was returned to the Tauranga community through grants in 2017/18. Of this, sports groups received 52 per cent while community service groups received the rest.

"Whether people like gaming machines or not, they are benefiting from them in the form of [money going to] ambulances, schools, clubs."

Tauranga City Council's chairman of the Community and Culture Committee, Terry Molloy, said research showed accessibility to gaming machines, particularly near people's homes in deprived areas, was a problem.

"I fully understand the desire for people to be accessing money via the machines and the agencies that run them, and that's something that supports the community, but unfortunately for every dollar they take out, you only get about a third back ... that's not necessarily that good."

A Department of Internal Affairs spokeswoman said there was no current definition for a sinking lid policy in the Gambling Act 2003 but it estimated up to one-third of New Zealand's 67 territorial authorities operated a type of sinking lid policy.

Pokies - the financial lifeblood of community groups

Bay Oval Trust general manager Kelvin Jones says that without funding from gaming machines, the cricket grounds and other community facilities would not exist. Photo / file
Bay Oval Trust general manager Kelvin Jones says that without funding from gaming machines, the cricket grounds and other community facilities would not exist. Photo / file

Without gambling money redistributed to sporting and community groups in Tauranga, most simply wouldn't survive, says Bay Oval Trust manager Kelvin Jones.

Jones said the New Zealand Communities Trust and the Lion Foundation were among the Oval's biggest contributors, granting close to $2 million in recent years.

"Quite frankly, facilities like this one - in a city that's struggling to keep up with growth and the infrastructure that comes with that - they simply would not be here," Jones said.

"We are not just about being a cricket ground. It's what it does for the whole community. It brings people together and we have the eyes of the world on us. That's something that funding provides."

Jones said he was extremely grateful for the support that came from such trusts but acknowledged the money was sometimes taken from the communities that could least afford it.

Have a say

Tauranga City Council is seeking feedback on its sinking lid proposal. People have until 5pm on November 16 to make a submission, before the council holds a hearing on December 11. Feedback will be used to propose a final revised policy for adoption by the council early next year. People can get more information on the council's website.