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No place for pokies, the ‘P’ of gambling

Opinion Piece

In 2000 David Wilson QC (now District Court Judge Wilson QC) and I were the lawyers who represented the combined churches of Hamilton (the Catholic Church, Church of the Latter Day Saints, Anglican Diocese and the Islamic Centre) in opposing the granting of a casino licence for the Hamilton Casino. We lost the initial hearing but won on appeal in the High Court. Unfortunately we were not ultimately successful in the Court of Appeal.

One of the principal grounds for opposition was the number of pokie machines proposed for the casino and the impact those machines would have on both the Hamilton and wider community.

One of my roles was to prepare all our expert evidence for the hearing. In doing so I met and briefed New Zealand’s leading experts on problem gambling. I have never forgotten the staggering data showing the disproportionate impact problem gambling has on Maori and Pacific Island communities. I vividly recall the alarming statistics around pokie machines.

In short, pokie machines are the methamphetamine of gambling. They are highly addictive and their destructive influence is wide ranging. In today’s society where young people and adults are glued to an interactive screen of one sort or another, the transition to a pokie screen is flawless and natural.

Process addiction is insidious and often difficult to detect. Our local addiction services are under-resourced and overwhelmed.

In last night’s front-page article about the pokie disaster that is hitting our region, Lizz Crawford of Te Ara Tika Gambling Services hoped that the upcoming election would see leadership that is proactive for the people of Tairawhiti.

Although the GDC Gambling Policy was reviewed earlier this year, if it is not working then it needs to be reviewed again and urgently. Furthermore the GDC should immediately review all bylaws and other policies that are enabling the extension of access to class 4 (pokie) gaming venues.

As mayor I will support all initiatives to eradicate pokie machines and reduce problem gambling within our community. Together we can make real change.

Tony Robinson, Mayoral candidate