After a conscience-wrestle that culminated in a tied vote, Buller district councillors last night quashed an application for more pokie machines in Westport.
The Southern Trust (TST) had applied to install up to nine machines in the Westport Motor Hotel, which currently has no pokies.
If the application had succeeded Westport would have had six pokie venues and up to 81 machines.
The application attracted nine submitters, eight of whom opposed it.
TST operations compliance manager, Campbell Wilson, told the council hearing the motor hotel's new owner had made a significant investment in the business and now wanted to offer more entertainment options.
The new machines would effectively replace six that had been withdrawn from the nearby Melbourne Hotel, Mr Wilson said.
There was no evidence more machines would increase gambling harm and little evidence of problem gambling in Buller.
The motor hotel was mainly frequented by travellers and the income generated by the machines would benefit the community. TST's policy was to distribute 95 per cent of funds in the area in which they were generated, Mr Wilson said.
He later clarified that ideally 40 per cent of the funds should return to the local community, after GST, government duty, and the vendor operator and TST took their cut.
He did not deny gambling caused harm, but said venue staff were well-trained to recognise and deal with problem gamblers.
Only one of the nine submitters, Alan Corbett, attended the hearing. He said more machines would not benefit Buller, where there were a number of problem gamblers.
"There's a group in Westport that travels from pub to pub. They have an underground thing -- they know when the jackpot is going to go off and they turn up and play those machines."
As incomes reduced, people who couldn't afford to would continue to gamble, Mr Corbett said.
Mr Wilson responded that Westport already had plenty of pokie machines -- the motor hotel would simply provide another venue rather than increase problem gambling.
Sunset Speedway president Chris McSherry told the council meeting his club couldn't survive without pokie money.
"If it wasn't for gaming machines and grants from council, we would probably have closed three to four years ago."
Councillor Phil Rutherford said he personally disliked pokies and had never used them, but he supported TST's application. Pokie machines were readily available in Westport and he didn't believe more machines would increase the gambling problem.
Councillor Graham Howard said Westport had one machine for every 133 people - more than double the national figure of 1/276. He would support four more machines, but not nine.
Councillor Dave Hawes said Westport's pokie numbers were alarming. He accepted more machines in Westport would dilute the spend, rather than increase the gambling problem, but feared gambling would rise as the economy fell.
Mayor Garry Howard said local organisations reliant on pokie funds were already getting funding from existing pokie machines.
"Fundamentally, I feel it's a mistake New Zealand ever having the machines in the country, and yet I'm a gambler," Mr Howard said.
He opposed increasing the number of machines in Westport. "If you are getting back 40 per cent and there's a dollar going in, is that really helping the community?"
Councillor Greg Hart said pokie machines were "mongrel things which destroyed homes and families".
However, the motor hotel owners had spent a lot of money upgrading the building and he thought four machines should be allowed.
Councillor Andrew Basher, who is the principal of Buller High School, said his school relied on money from pokie machines for student activities.
"Either we can be a police state or not and, being an educator, I'd say education is probably the key."
He had seen little evidence of problem gamblers in Westport, or of staff trained to deal with them.
However, he also had concerns that families were suffering from money lost on pokies.
Councillor Sharon Roche moved council approve six machines. The vote failed by six to four.
Ms Roche then moved council approve four machines. The vote tied at five all.
Under council rules there is no casting vote and a tied vote means the status quo (no machines at the motor hotel) remains.
- Westport News