Sport in New Zealand is propped up by around $180 million in gambling revenue each year, creating a cycle of dependency health experts have likened to big tobacco sponsorship.

While proceeds from Lotto and a levy on TAB sports betting boost the bank balances of most national sports bodies and help fund high performance athletes, pokie gaming trusts are by far the biggest contributor.

Payouts in 2013 have taken the total pokie money contribution to sports funding past the billion-dollar mark over the last seven years.

In 2012 gaming machines contributed $134,202,165 across the sporting sector. The Lotteries grants board provided $41,585,084 - most of which went to Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand. The TAB contributed $3,886,198 to the major sporting associations.


It's money sports administrators say they can't do without, with many predicting a decline in gambling revenue for their sport would result in children no longer being able to play. That claim has been rubbished by Australasia's leading authority on gambling harm.

"That is just nonsense," said Charles Livingstone, a senior lecturer in preventive medicine at Melbourne's Monash University.

"It is exactly the same argument we heard from people in sporting organisations that had become dependent on tobacco money. When it was proposed that we should implement a ban on that advertising the forecast was that sport as we know it would cease to exist. That actually didn't happen.

"It's incredible self-serving nonsense if you ask me."

The New Zealand Rugby Union has been at the forefront of sport's push to protect gambling revenue. At the select committee hearing for Te Ururoa Flavell's Gambling Harm Reduction bill the NZRU submitted that key measures in the bill - which aimed to give communities greater powers to deal with gaming machines - would cause "widespread harm to sport".

Losing gaming machine revenue would see many rugby clubs fold, while others would be forced to raise playing fees by up to 500 per cent.

"All we were pointing out was what would happen if the revenue generated by gaming was lost," NZRU chief Steve Tew said.

Dr Livingstone scoffed at that argument. "I assume rugby union didn't exist in New Zealand before the pokie machine industry was established?"


Softball New Zealand's acting chief executive Fay Freeman backed the rugby union's submission.

"The NZRU had a responsibility to point out that sport is reliant on gambling funds, and if this source of revenue is not available, then the alternative is to stop providing sport, or reduce accessibility of sport to those who can afford to pay."

Basketball New Zealand chief executive Iain Potter said the NZRU submission indicated just how dependent the sports sector was on gambling revenue.

"Sport has identified its neediness in relation to that income source and has acted to protect it," he said.

"It's really an illustration of how needy sport is that it would go to that extent.

"You'd like to think that sport would be able to go to the select committee and say how they have made good use of that money and explain why it makes a useful and valuable contribution back to the community and leave it at that."