Council hears both sides of gambling storyReading Time: 2 minutes

Pleas to focus on community harm mixed with warnings of funding cuts for community sports during  the debate yesterday on the Dunedin City Council’s (New Zeeland) proposal to gradually reduce the number of gambling venues in the city.

Proposed changes to the council’s  gambling and TAB venue policy would extend South Dunedin’s sinking lid policy on poker machines to the rest of the city.

It would also ban new gambling venues and not allow existing ones to relocate.

The new approach attracted 56 submissions,  35 of which supported the change, but yesterday’s  hearing was dominated by organisations arguing against the move.

They included gaming trusts and the Class 4 Working Party, which represented 85% of gaming association venues, and  also Dunedin sports organisations worried about losing grants. Dunedin Netball volunteer and former general manager Lee-Anne Anderson said her organisation relied on such funding to cover costs, from competitions and equipment to court hire.

Without it, more costs would have to be passed on to  members, which “would definitely see a drop in participation numbers”, she said.

Sports organisations themselves could also be under threat, as $40,000 received by Dunedin Netball last year amounted to 15% of its annual income.

“That’s the difference between breaking even and a loss,” she said.

Duane Donovan, the volunteer chairman of ParaFed Otago, which supported members with physical disabilities to take part in sport, also opposed the change.

ParaFed depended on such funding for its very existence, and that was “not an exaggeration”.

The effects  of the proposed policy would be felt by sporting and welfare groups across Dunedin, he said.

Karen Shea, of the Southern Trust, said her organisation distributed just over $220,000 in  84 grants to Dunedin groups last year.

About half  went to sports groups and the rest to a mix of community organisations, but it was just a slice of the $5.8million in total gaming machine income distributed in the city last year.

Committee chairman Cr Aaron Hawkins questioned dire warnings of the effects on sports groups,  pointing out the sinking lid policy would take effect only if a venue closed and did not reopen within six months.

Putting an end to poker machines and community funding was not being proposed, and suggesting otherwise was “a bit of stretch”, he said.

Jarrod True, of the Class 4 Working Party, disagreed, saying a sinking lid policy implied a target of zero, and “that’s where you are heading”.

Nothing had happened since Dunedin’s policy was last reviewed in 2015 to justify the change, Mr True said.

Instead, while gaming machine numbers nationally had dropped in the last 15 years, problem gambling rates had remained static, he said.

Extra restrictions would push more people into online gambling, where “you can lose your home without leaving it” and money was not returned to communities, he said.

Others disagreed, including Eru Loach, of the Problem Gambling Foundation, who said the amount of money spent on poker machines was climbing.

The social problems that resulted — from crime and lost jobs to depression and suicide — meant his organisation was “flat out”.

“We are not talking about something that’s financial harm alone. It’s everything else which comes with it.”

He supported the council’s new approach and said the search for more sustainable sources of income “is the way forward” for community groups.

The hearing was adjourned and  will  resume for public deliberations on March 6.


Source: European Gaming Media and Events