Trust House has 77 pokie machines in Wairarapa. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

Trust House Foundation says central business districts of Wairarapa towns will be enhanced if it is allowed to close down old pubs and open modern ones with the same number of pokie machines.

It is arguing for a broader relocation policy in one of the 15 submissions to a collective review of gambling venue policy by the three councils.

There was a hearing in the Carterton Events Centre yesterday for those who want to speak to their submissions and a final policy will then be set later this month.

The region has had a sinking-lid policy on pokies since 2008, meaning when one pokie machine is taken out it isn’t replaced. The policy also restricts relocation of existing venues.

The pro- and anti-gambling lobbies have put in big submissions and there are also some individuals who talk about the harm done to their lives by gambling, and opinions from health providers.

The owners of pokies detail the money that flows into community organisations, including councils, from them and say no one can replace it.

Of the 15 submissions one fully supports the proposed policy, eight have suggested amendments and six are against.

The foundation says it has 18 machines at Jackson Street Bar, 18 at Kuripuni Tavern and 18 at The Farriers, nine at Greytown Hotel, 14 at Pukemanu Tavern, but none in Carterton District.

In the period April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, the foundation made grants totalling $3.8 million, mostly to community groups based in Wairarapa.

It says councils, central government and commercial sponsors can’t come up with this amount of money for “grassroots organisations”.

It says the relocation policy only allows venues to relocate in circumstances beyond the venue operator’s control, such as public works acquisition, site redevelopment, or natural disaster.

It says venues should be able to move out of buildings that are earthquake-prone and if they are just too large.

“Some taverns and clubs are located on large areas of land with large carparks. These taverns and clubs may be able to cater for their clientele by moving to new, modern, smaller premises, but are prevented from doing so by the limited relocation provision. If the venues could freely relocate, this could free up large areas of land for more productive purposes.

“Allowing local businesses to upgrade their premises and provide a more modern, attractive offering to the public helps to revitalise business districts and improves the local economy.”

The foundation says the restrictive relocation provision places a lot of power in the hands of landlords who can charge above-market rents with unreasonable terms.

Tina McIvor of the Problem Gambling Foundation makes a raft of suggestions to make operators of venues aid reduction in harm caused by gambling.

These include that the licensee takes active steps to prevent parents leaving their children unattended, and that drunk patrons can’t gamble.

Ramil Adhikari from the Salvation Army Oasis programmes argues pokies do the most harm and congratulates the councils on the sinking lid policy on them. He says there should be no relocation clause.

The Gaming Machine Association requests the sinking lid approach is replaced with a cap of three venues in Carterton with 45 machines, five venues in Masterton with 78 machines and six venues in South Wairarapa with 65 machines. The Lion Foundation argues for the same caps.

Lauren Durrant says there should no pokies.

“I am a victim of a gambling [pokies] addict and in no way can I see how they benefit society.

“The tremendous harm that gambling does to families can be as bad or worse than that of a drug addiction yet communities can blindly go on supporting this as they benefit.

“The harm is forever and unbelievably destructive. Maybe you hold a meeting for victims to voice this to you in person. It will reveal the desperation of families who live with this.”