It’s all happening on the gambling front right now. This week the Auditor-General’s office agreed to carry out an inquiry into the Prime Minister’s dodgy pokies-for-convention-centre process. Meanwhile, the debate between pokie trusts and politicians around Te Ururoa Flavell’s Gambling Harm Reduction Bill has also been playing out in the media. With submissions on this due to the Commerce Select Committee Bill by June 21, the pressure is on.
Pub pokies and the Flavell Bill
One of the developments this week has been Mr Flavell’s clarification that his Bill, if passed, would require at last 80% of the 37.12% of gambling proceeds that pokie trusts are currently required to return to communities to be distributed within the same geographical area within which the machines themselves are located. This would put paid to at least some of the rorts that pokie trusts have managed to pull since the Gambling Act was enacted in 2003.
Though I’d like to see a much higher return to communities than 37% – I think 50% or 60% is entirely possible – the “80% of 37%” rule, along with moves to introduce player controls and give communities more say in how many (if any) pokies are located in their communities, is one of the strengths of this Bill.
Its biggest strength, however, is its intention to clean up the industry – by replacing the pokie trusts with local distribution committees, along the lines of the Community Organisations Grants Scheme. Because the fact is that, despite numerous opportunities for voluntary compliance, a tough new Gambling Act, and new and wide regulatory powers given to DIA, the current system is rotten.
As the Problem Gambling Foundation has said in its submission, currently there are nearly 50 self-appointed gambling trusts with 50 sets of overheads running the show. Between them the trusts and the venue operators (pubs) currently swallow up around $210 million of the three quarters of a billion dollars gambled away on pub pokies every year. The trusts treat gambling proceeds – which are essentially public funds – as their own; they have even admitted to using gambling money to help fund their lobbying around this Bill. It’s for the Select Committee to discuss exactly what mechanisms would work best, but doing away with these dodgy trusts would be a huge step in the right direction.
Casino deal back in the spotlight
This week is being called John Key’s worst one as PM. But of all the self-inflicted crises that have bedevilled him and his government this year, the dodgy pokies-for-convention-centre deal is the only one that threatens his own reputation. As Metiria Turei has said, with the Deputy Auditor General acknowledging the deal raises issues worth investigating, the only responsible course of action surely must be to assure the public that no deal will be signed while the inquiry is underway. But will the Prime Minister listen? He seems determined to push this deal through.
In all of this, it’s important not to lose sight of the main issue: the harm these machines cause. Casino and pub pokies are often spoken about as if one lot is worse than the other. But the reality is that we need to clean up the entire industry. There are 21,127 pokie machines in this country and they all cause enormous harm. They’re a magnet for problem gamblers, and casinos are a haven for crime and money laundering; the rorts are endless; and the industry is poorly managed.
As a nation we are addicted, too, to the funding generated from gambling. Replacing pokie money with new funding streams will require long-term solutions. In the meantime Mr Flavell’s Bill and the Auditor-General’s office are offering to step us in the right direction.
The Commerce Select Committee is currently seeking submissions on the Flavell Bill, so please have your say! Click here to make an online submission.