Whanganui District Council's gambling venues policy is as stringent as it can be - but still unable to prevent addictive gambling.
The policy is up for its three-year review, with only minor amendments that would prevent new venues being established.
The policy was designed to impose a "sinking lid" on the number of pokie machines in the district, and reduce the harm caused by problem gambling.
The number of machines in the district has reduced from 257 in 2012 to 208 now, senior policy analyst Justin Walters said. However, Whanganui spending on pokie gambling has continued to rise, reaching $11.3 million in 2019 according to Department of Internal Affairs figures.
Under gambling law, at least 40 per cent ($4.52 million) needs to be contributed to community causes, but not necessarily causes in the community it came from. During 2019 only $1.26 million - just a fraction of the 40 per cent - could be identified as going to organisations in the Whanganui District.
Whanganui has 14 venues with pokie machines, and 13 of them are in areas ranked by the Public Health Department as "deprived". The Red Lion Inn is the only exception.
"If these figures are even close to being correct these organisations are sucking money out of our most deprived neighbourhoods and taking it out of Whanganui," Mayor Hamish McDouall said.
Councillor Rob Vinsen said he supports a sinking lid policy, but funding from pokie proceeds has some benefits.
"We shouldn't forget the good use those funds have been put to in this town. Saturday morning sport relies on NZCT [New Zealand Community Trust] funding."
Applying that money to sport showed "a completely and utterly broken system that relies on an abhorrent addiction to gambling", councillor Jenny Duncan said.
Central government has the power to find other ways to fund sports clubs, she said.
Councillor James Barron said the figures were "horrendous and immoral". He said 11 per cent of what was spent in deprived areas came back to Whanganui - but to more elite sports and not to the whānau who gambled it.
However, Walters said the policy was as stringent as the council could legally make it.
The proposed changes are minor, but one of them closes a gap that could allow a new venue to set up. The change would require venues that are merging or relocating to surrender their existing licences and apply for a new one.
When the RSA and Cosmopolitan Club venues merged to form Club Metro they had to reduce the number of machines in the new entity by a third.
Barracks Sports Bar moved into the RSA building. It was able to apply for a licence to operate the 18 pokie machines from the closed Midtown Motor Inn venue as it was not classified as a new venue. The application was granted because it met the policy's rules on relocation.
The amended gambling venues policy will be out for consultation until November 20. This will be a good test of whether people are still comfortable with a sinking lid policy, Walters said.
Whanganui has 14 pokie machine venues and 208 machines, though they may not all be in use.
People in the Whanganui District lost an average $81.98 per person on gambling in 2019. That amount is in the top half of New Zealand for gambling losses - but well below Kawerau on $132.45 per person and well above Selwyn on $24.87.
The biggest pokie venues, with 18 machines each, are the St John's and Whanganui East clubs, Barracks Sports Bar, Shotz, Tandoori Spice Bar and Stellar Restaurant & Bar.