by Denise Roche
It’s no wonder a lot of community organisations rely on money from pokie machines to fund their activities. Savage cuts to the public sector combined with a tighter contracting environment usually means a shortfall in money and in a recession there’s not a lot of other money floating around to support local not-for-profit organisations. (See my blog dated 25th May) A massive amount of good work is done by organisations in the Not-For-Profit and community sector – and it’s estimated that the value of that work is equal to 4.9% of GDP – which includes the millions of volunteer hours contributed on an annual basis as well.
A lot of organisations are really uncomfortable about accessing pokie trust money but don’t feel they have any other funding options. So it’s not surprising there’s some concern about Māori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell’s Gambling (Harm Reduction) Bill which has just passed its first reading in the House.
There’s a lot of good stuff for communities and community groups contained in the proposals in the bill. It clears the way for a cleaner, more transparent and less harmful gambling industry – and there’ll be more money available for community organisations too. The Bill seeks to:
- give councils and communities the power to decide on the number and placement of pokie machines in their area
- raise the amount distributed from machines to the community from 37% to at least 80%
- ensure the money goes back to the community where the gambling took place
- phase out the trusts which currently distribute pokie earnings and replace them with local distribution committees similar to those already set up for COGs or Lotteries
- remove racing from the list of charitable purposes which may receive gambling funds
- introduce player tracking and pre-commit cards, enabling gamblers to put controls on the amount of time and money they lose
Contrary to what the Lion Foundation – and other pokie trusts – are saying, the bill will deliver more income to local communities, deliver more decision making to local communities, reduce harm from gambling and – importantly – develop a clearer and more transparent method for allocating the funds to the community and so deal to the enormous fraud and crime industry that has frequently been associated with the current pokie trusts.
When even Francis Wevers, the former head of the industry body the Charity Gaming Association, reports that the industry is untrustworthy, reform of the funding distribution system is clearly essential. According to the Department of Internal Affairs in the last quarter the profits from all pokie gambling in non-club venues was $176,882,646. That’s an awful lot of money sloshing about so it’s no wonder there’s some elements of dodgy distribution.
Pokies are the most harmful gambling product in New Zealand. Ultimately we need to build a funding environment where communities no longer rely on pokie funding and people are no longer addicted to pokies. In the meantime, this Bill is a very important step in the right direction.
This Bill has now gone to the Commerce Select Committee, which will be accepting submissions until June 21.
It’s vital that community organisations make their voices heard in this process. Submissions don’t need to be long. You can make an online submission here. To find out more about making submissions, click here.