Wellington, as well as other New Zealand states, is facing stricter gambling rules, as authorities try to control the industry and protect vulnerable populations like youngsters and compulsive gamblers. In 2009, there were almost 20,000 machines across NZ but steadily the number decreases. Nowadays, the capital city has 633 licensed pokie machines and 938 in the Wellington region.
The ‘sinking lid’ policy is no news because it was first introduced in Hamilton in 2018 and aimed to promote Responsible Gambling and limit the number of machines in the country. Now it’s Wellington’s turn: playing online pokies and attending land-based venues has become one of the most popular pastimes among Kiwis.
Tamatha Paul, Wellington’s City Councillor has proposed the ‘sinking lid’ policy at a council meeting. This proposal states that new licenses can’t be issued and if the venue closes, machines can’t be moved to a new owner, pub, or casino.
The proposal also suggests lowering the Lambton/Pukehinau and Onslow-Western/Wharangi zones to limit the number of pokies in the region. The proposal also offers to bring back to life an old law: non-designated places can’t transform into gambling places with pokie machines.
However, groups which significantly rely on gambling revenues, feel worried, and disagree with the proposal. In 2017 and 2018, pokies in clubs and pubs have generated around $61 million in revenues that were spent on education, entertainment, and the environment solely in the Wellington area. This means that if the funding disappears, the local authorities will have to find other sources of revenue to support local organizations.
Phil Gibbons, Chief Executive of Sport Wellington, is sure that before the ‘sinking lid’ proposal is accepted, it is important to evaluate its pros and cons, as well as the consequences for the local economy.
He is sure that sports and recreation in Wellington greatly rely on gambling revenues and if authorities want to keep it that way, they should first find another source of funding. He also says that the latest events showed how difficult it is for the community to bloom if the funds are not sufficient.
However, Paula Snowden, Chief Executive of the Problem Gambling Foundation, fully supports the ‘sinking lid’ policy. She is sure that gambling funds that support the economy come from people who can’t afford to lose the money, so eventually, it generates more harm than use. To find a compromise, Paula offered to divert these funds to businesses and retail who could eventually sponsor communities and organizations that rely on gambling money.
Tamatha Paul is sure that taking money from the poor and vulnerable is not ethical and shouldn’t fund the activities of the locals. Fleur Fitzsimons, the councilor, said that problem gambling breaks Wellington families and she fully supports the ‘sinking lid’ policy which can reduce harm generated by gambling.
Potential changes in the Gambling Venues Policy will be discussed at the Strategy and Policy Committee meeting, and the public can offer proposal changes from September to November 2020.