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'Who is losing money on the pokies?'

Jessica Swan

Problem Gambling Foundation is urging council to strengthen anti-gambling measures as a new report shows how the economy will benefit from diverting gambling losses into local spending.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Paula Snowden has urged the Christchurch City Council to adopt a stronger "sinking lid" policy.

The policy is that when an existing pokie venue closes, consent is not given for a replacement. It does, however, allow clubs to merge thereby retaining their pokies, which is what Snowden wants changed.

The city council had invited presentations after the release of a New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) report commissioned by The Salvation Army and the Problem Gambling Foundation. The report estimates that if gambling on pokies in pubs and clubs was diverted to other uses, the retail sector could have gained an extra $445 million in 2018-19.

Snowden said pokies caused harm and stress, and their impact was more concentrated in "deprived" areas. 

"Look first at what money is lost and who's losing it, not just where it goes," Snowden said.

Christchurch pokie venues and deprivation scale
Map of Christchurch pokie venues (as of June 2020) with reference to the 2013 Otago University Socioeconomic Deprivation Indexes Joel Reed

Also presenting to the council was Keith Ballantyne, the southern general manager for Clubs New Zealand, which represents RSAs, sports, community and workingmen's clubs. More than 280,000 people nationwide belong to member clubs.

Ballantyne stressed that clubs were separate from bars. In the non-profit club setting, people were looked after. That distinguished them from commercial money-driven settings associated with the pokies, he said.

Funding from pokies was a safe and effective way to give back to the 40,000 people connected to clubs in Christchurch, Ballantyne said.

"We are the most direct funding back into the community because we are community facilities."

Ballantyne said online gambling had gone "wildfire" with "horrondeous" growth since Covid-19. Gambling should take place in a controlled environment, rather than home, he said.