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No problem gambling service ‘a disgrace’

Having no official problem gambling service here is “disgraceful”, those on both sides told a Gisborne District Council hearings panel yesterday.

The panel heard submissions from 12 people and organisations on the council’s draft gambling policy, which seeks to implement a sinking lid policy around the number of NZ Racing Board venues (TABs) in the district and to forbid any Class 4 gambling venue from relocating under any circumstances.

Ka Pai Kaiti chairwoman Lizz Crawford congratulated the council on putting forward a “people first” policy.

However, she also pointed out that since the region no longer had a problem gambling service, accessibility to help was not at the same level as access to gaming machines.

“It is fairly simple that the system plunders the vulnerable, in particular a community that finds itself without a problem gambling service.”

Gaming machine operators are required to pay a levy for issues identified by problem gambling service providers.

Ms Crawford said if there was no service provider in a community, data was not being collected on the harm done in that community.

“When the ministry comes to ‘invoice’ the industry for the harm done, what is going to happen is pokies are available but the finance that is billed to industry will not be billed because it is the service provider that collects that data.”

Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand counsel Jarrod True told the panel the industry paid into a $20m levy fund used to reduce gambling harm.

When councillor Pat Seymour said Tairawhiti “did not see much” of that money, Mr True said he would be happy to join community organisation Ka Pai Kaiti in “banging on the Ministry of Health’s door” for more help.

In relation to relocation, he pointed out venues could be “held to ransom” by landlords and be forced to stay in buildings not up to earthquake resistance standards if they could not relocate.

In summary, there was “nothing to justify” the proposed changes.

'It is disgraceful that you don’t have a service provider here'New Zealand Community Trust chief executive Mike Knell agreed that a problem gambling service needed to be returned.

New facial recognition technology installed at Gisborne venues could alert a provider when a (self-excluded) problem gambler had been noted trying to play machines. The service provider could then contact the excluded player and offer support.

“It is disgraceful that you don’t have a service provider here.”

He suggested if venues were allowed to relocate, the council could make relocations conditional on venues installing facial recognition.

Mr Knell said NZCT was the nation’s biggest gaming trust, operating five of Gisborne’s seven (non-club) venues, and it was “critical” the council retained a cap policy rather than a sinking lid.

There was a “huge increase” in the number of Gisborne schools applying for essential grant funding.

The NZCT submission also noted in the 2017 financial year it returned $3.125 million to Gisborne in community funding, with the council the biggest recipient — receiving $447.678 in two grants for the Lawson Field Theatre upgrade.

Regional medical officer of health Margot McLean said Hauora Tairawhiti was “certainly” advocating for a return of a problem gambling service.

When asked by Mrs Seymour how much of the $20m problem gambling levy had been issued to Tairawhiti, Dr McLean said she did not know.

Mrs Seymour suggested lobbying the Ministry of Health to find out what was happening.

In supporting the proposed changes, Dr McLean said there was “compelling evidence” gambling harm was far more likely to be associated with gaming machines than any other form of gambling.

“The quarterly loss to pokie machines in Tairawhiti for December 2018 was $2,825,777 — meaning that the annual loss is over $11m. The annual income for pokie grants was $3,598,071.

“So the money flowing out of our community from pokie machines is more than three times the money that is coming in.”

Huringa Pai Charitable Trust submitter Paul Smith said they did not object to the sinking lid approach in regards to new venues but did object to penalising those venues wanting to relocate.

The increase in the amount of money lost to pokie machines showed a reduction in pokie numbers over the years had not worked to stop gambling.

“Huringa Pai is one of those organisations making a difference to the health and wellbeing of those with diabetes, pre-diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Without funding from the gaming trusts, we would be forced to close down our initiatives. Whanau wouldn’t be living healthy longer. They would continue to die too young.”

Mr Smith said he also wanted to see a problem gambling service back in Gisborne.

Gisborne RSA representative David Sly said the proposed changes were “Draconian”, especially around relocation.

“If our lease runs out, or the place burns down, where do we go?”

The draft policy made no distinction between clubs and bars, as clubs like the RSA owned their machines. If the machines became useless following a relocation, then that would have an effect on the club’s balance sheet.

Other submitters suggested that if venues were unable to relocate it would mean landlords could charge over the odds for rent.

Hospitality New Zealand regional manager Alan Sciascia said the organisation opposed all changes proposed.

Gambling was an “integral” part of the overall customer experience for some premises. Removing gambling in the event of relocation would reduce the customer experience and make some businesses inviable.

“It would also create one major beneficiary from gambling monies —the landlord where those businesses are currently located. If I’m a landlord, I know they can’t move. He either fails and I get someone else in the space, or I just keep charging him more rent.”

A New Zealand Racing Board submission said the sinking lid proposal would effectively cap TABs in Gisborne at one. More flexibility was needed to accommodate for growth.

GDC policy adviser Chris Gilmore said 81 written submissions were received, with 59 in favour and 22 opposed.

The draft policy was developed in 2018 following a review of the existing policy as required by legislation.

Community consultation took place from March 5 to April 9.

The hearings panel — comprising councillors Pat Seymour, Josh Wharehinga and Larry Foster — will make a recommendation to the council later this month.