Christchurch gets its say on gambling harm reduction

Yesterday I was in Christchurch with the Commerce Committee hearing the verbal submissions on the Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill. There were around 29,000 written submissions on the bill, with about 400 or so submitters wanting to give oral presentations so the committee is working our way through them.

The bill concentrates on “Class 4 gambling” – which refers to the pokie machines in pubs and clubs so casinos, who are regulated by other laws, are left out of it. The aim of the bill is to reduce gambling harm – and the reason there were so many submissions is that, while the bill seeks to introduce harm-minimisation technology to pokie machines and is also aiming to give more control to local communities to reduce the number of pokies in their areas, it also suggests a major overhaul of the way the funding that goes to community organisations is distributed.

The existing 47 pokie trusts are clearly unhappy about this. Between them they distribute hundreds of millions of dollars each year and some of them – like Pub Charity – used those funds to encourage those who had received grants from them to submit against the bill.

So the Commerce Committee has been hearing presentation after presentation from very good and worthy organisations that are afraid that their funding sources will dry up if the bill is passed. Organisations like Alzheimers NZ or Arthritis NZ or Taylors Mistake Surf Life Saving Club. They all say they are dependent on pokie money – the moral hazard for them is that around 40% of that pokie money comes from people with gambling problems.

We also heard from sports organisations. Sports Canterbury receives around $10 million per year and say they cannot offer the services they offer without the gambling money and cited the example of a fun run that they were co-ordinating for around 2000 people which they said they wouldn’t be able to hold if they didn’t get funding (despite charging entry fees that would provide between $10,000 – 20,000).

The most thought provoking submissions I have heard so far were from the Social Justice division of the Anglican Care Canterbury/Westland and an independent media organisation called ‘Make Collective” and the Christchurch Methodist Mission. Each, in their own way, lamented the fact that the discussion around gambling harm had become so tied up with what happens to the gambling funds. And they’re right. The issue of what happens when pokies trap people into harmful gambling has become sidelined.

One submitter went further and called pokie funds for organisations ‘hush money’. He told of his experience of feeling pressured not to submit in favour of the bill by others who accessed those funds (for genuinely good projects).

I think he’s right. We need to wean our community organisations off their addiction to pokie money so we can have a proper conversation about gambling harm where self-interest takes a back seat.

13 thoughts on “Christchurch gets its say on gambling harm reduction

  1. I hope the Committee was more courteous to submitters than when in Auckland, where they were grouped in fives and given 5 minutes between them after being promised 5 to 10 minutes each, just so the Committee could get done a day early. Frankly it was insulting.

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  2. I’m sure if you put it to those worried about their funding that instead of pokies money we will institute a new 10% tax on the first $10,000 of everyone’s income they would be horrified. Especially if that money was administered by a bunch of committees appointed by pub owners.

    But pokies are exactly that – they most affect those with the least.

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  3. You’re actually half right, Denise.

    We need to wean our community organisations off their addiction to pokie money…

    Thats the bit where you’e wrong.

    …we can have a proper conversation about gambling harm where self-interest takes a back seat.

    That’s the bit where you’re right.

    Community organisations are not “addicted” to pokie money; these organisations need money to function, and it just so happens that the most readily accessible source of funding is pokie funding. I know he never said it, but to misquote Willie Sutton: “Why do you apply for pokie funding?” “Because thats where the money is”.

    If were were a third of a billion floating around that was available to be distributed by multiple competing granting organisations, like pokie funding is, then good causes would loose interest in pokie money in a heartbeat. And then society could have a discussion about the roles pokie machines play in society.

    A couple of weeks or so ago I started reading the written submissions, but it rapidly got overwhelming. So I resorted to sampling, and read about 10% of the just over four thousand that the website said there were, so where are the other 25K?

    Wish I knew the hearing was on; I’d have popped along for a listen.

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  4. The only actual “threat” to community group funding comes from

    1. their dependence on the existing pokie trusts, and thus a “fear” of offending them.

    2. cross subsidy of middle class area community groups from lower socio economic areas where pokie use is higher.

    Any new arrangment would supply more funds overall, but some areas would receive less because of the end of the extra to area subsidy. This should be good for development of community funding in some poorer areas – including those working with local problem gamblers.

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  5. I’d love to hear how you think there is going to be more funding overall.

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  6. The guarantee of a minimum amount being allocated to community groups – this is higher than some trusts allocate now.

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  7. Excellent SPC. Tax more and spend more. Do we need a new ministry to handle the disbursements. Should we just absorb those community groups into the new give-people-money ministry.

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  8. What tax? How is a higher rate of profits off pokies being given back into the community spending more?

    Typical right wing sound-bite, meaningless and in support of those who retain the pokie profit money – any interest to declare?

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  9. @Tom: you’re absolutely correct. The Auckland select committee hearings were so lacking in courtesy and I was absolutely ashamed at how some submitters had their time allocated. Submitters at subsequent hearings have been allocated more time which means there has been more opportunity to ask questions and have a decent discussion.

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  10. If were were a third of a billion floating around that was available to be distributed by multiple competing granting organisations, like pokie funding is, then good causes would loose interest in pokie money in a heartbeat. And then society could have a discussion about the roles pokie machines play in society.

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  11. The more I read Denise’s opener to this thread, the more my brows get furrowed.

    Quoting this again:

    We need to wean our community organisations off their addiction to pokie money so we can have a proper conversation about gambling harm where self-interest takes a back seat.

    Is this meant to imply that “gambling harm” is the fault of “our community organisations”?

    If so, that is a pretty outrageous allegation.

    It would be yet another attempt to shift blame: The “gambling harm” caused to gamblers and others is entirely down to the gamblers involved, no-one else shoulders any responsibility.

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  12. I would have thought that all she meant was that the community groups were dependent on this funding (that comes from the pokies).

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  13. The whole pokie money allocation system is broken, rotten, and immoral.
    Anything the community can do to make the process more transparent and fair would be good.
    It’s outrageous that low decile areas in Auckland are feeding pokie machines where the profits are being fed into a rich mans club of Otago racing.

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