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Gaming in NZ pubs highly regulated, industry groups say

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

An Australian court case about gaming machines in pubs has put the spotlight on gaming in New Zealand and Australia, says the Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand.

Bruce Robertson, Independent Chairman of the Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand (GMANZ), says the landmark court case in Australia attracted international interest as it was the first of its kind in the world.

A federal judge recently dismissed claims made under Australian Consumer Law that gaming machines were inherently unfair to players. Lawyers representing former problem gambler Shonica Guy argued that covert features of the game Dolphin Treasure, also widely used in New Zealand, were designed to be addictive, contributing to her problem gambling. However, Justice Debra Mortimer found no evidence this was the case.

Mr Robertson says the New Zealand gaming industry is highly regulated and recognises some people struggle with gambling, whether it takes the form of Lotto, racing, scratchies or gaming at machines in pubs. New Zealand and Australia have stringent conditions around gaming, he says.

Data shows problem gambling is not a growing issue. The Department of Internal Affairs has just released performance indicators which show there are fewer problem gamblers even though revenue from gaming has increased in recent years. The Ministry of Health estimates 0.3% of the adult population, about 14,000 people (or one in 333 New Zealand adults) is a problem gambler. About half of those say pub or club-based gaming machines is their primary mode of gambling.

The Canadian Problem Gambling Index (CPGI), used internationally and by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health to screen the general population for problem gambling, indicates New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of problem gambling in the world, Mr Robertson says.

That sentiment has been echoed by Hamilton-based Grassroots Trust, which distributes nearly $13 million a year in community funding from gaming machines. The Trust is arguing against a planned Hamilton City Council policy change around gaming machines that would ultimately reduce the amount of money going back into the community.

Grassroots Trust operates 36 gaming venues in Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay and returns over 40% of profits from machines to local communities and schools for sport, education and community activities. It is the sixth largest gaming trust in New Zealand and has given out more than $60 million to community organisations and major projects since 2003.

Chairman Martin Bradley says the Trust does not usually seek to put itself in the limelight but feels it must let community organisations know about the potential impact on their ability to deliver outcomes for their communities if Hamilton City Council adopts a dramatically changed policy.

Under a review of the Class 4 Gambling Venue Policy, Hamilton City Council plans to keep its sinking lid policy on gaming venues within Hamilton’s pubs, but will no longer allow gaming venues to move or clubs to merge under the draft policy.

Mr Bradley says the Grassroots Trust board and others will be making a case for retaining the current policy. Under that policy, the council controlled any growth of gaming machines, but allowed for venues to move or clubs to merge under certain circumstances - an important issue given some buildings need to set up elsewhere due to redevelopment, damage or earthquake strengthening.

In the year to March 2017, the Grassroots Trust funded community organisations in the Waikato alone to the tune of $5.1 million, including $155,000 for Hospice; $150,000 to help the World Masters Games; $87,000 for Balloons over Waikato; and $50,000 for the True Colours Charitable Trust. It has previously helped fund major infrastructure projects such as upgrading Seddon Park, destination playgrounds, as well as paying $100,000 to buy new lights for the Christmas tree in Garden Place.

Mr Bradley says $1 million a month goes back into the Trust’s various communities, and for 15 years Grassroots Trust has been a very strong supporter of infrastructure in Hamilton city with millions of dollars spent helping the Council and city.

Grassroots Trust and other organisations will speak in opposition to Hamilton City Council’s proposed changes at public hearings in May.

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