Tauranga City councillors have been urged to ditch a plan to adopt a sinking lid gambling policy by some community groups who fear their major funding source will take a big hit.
On Wednesday, Tauranga City Council's Community and Culture Committee began hearing oral submissions in relation to its draft Gambling Venues Policy aimed at reducing the level of harm from problem gambling.
Under the proposed changes, the council would not allow new or additional gaming machines or venues, and existing machines and venues would not be replaced.
The three-yearly review of the city's gaming laws drew 108 submissions, with 22 people or organisations making oral submissions to the committee.
Most of the eight submitters on Wednesday urged the councillors to retain the status quo but some also called for minor changes to the gaming machines relocation policy.
This included Martin Bradley from the Grassroots Trust which operates 36 gaming machines across two Tauranga venues and distributed $1.34m of grants to Tauranga-based organisations in the 12 months to September this year.
"Reducing venues and machine numbers would merely reduce community funding and encourage more people to gamble online with zero return to the community."
Bradley said there were already significant mechanisms to reduce harm at venues, such as facial recognition technology to help identify problem gamblers.
Tauranga gamblers spent more than $34m last year, an increase of $1.6m from 2016, with about $8m returned to the community through grants in 2017/2018.
Among the other submitters were Dianne Beveridge and Andrew Buckley, from Headway Brain Injury Association BOP Incorporated, who opposed the sinking lid policy.
Beveridge, who is Headway's liaison officer, said one-third of its funding came from gaming trusts and major other fundraising was needed yearly to keep its services going.
"Your proposed policy changes will result in a gap in services available to vulnerable people in our community. Taking away this funding would be catastrophic for our clients who are already facing huge challenges in their lives," she said.
Tauranga had one of the lowest adult problem gambling rates in the country, the committee members were told.
Private submitter Chris Ingram said he applauded the plan to adopt a sinking lid policy which was the perfect way for the council to reduce the level of harm caused.
"We all know there is too much harm from gambling and I say no more," Ingram said.
Murray Reade from the Lion Foundation said his organisation also supported the current population-based restriction on pokie machines as "a balanced and pragmatic" approach.
David Pearce from the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union said the adopting this policy would be "profoundly damaging" for a large portion of this community who relied on these funds.
Pearce said one-third of the union's funding, some $1.5m a year, came from gaming trusts, which was poured back into grassroots rugby to support its 14,000 players.
Holding big events such as the TECT National Seven's tournament this weekend "would just not happen" without gaming trusts' funding, he said.
The committee will deliberate on the submissions early next year.