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Pokies spend raises alarm bells

Spending on pokies is rising and it’s not because people have more money. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

PAM GRAHAM
[email protected]

Spending on pokies is rising in Wairarapa and Tarurua, and around the country, and the Problem Gambling Foundation wants an investigation into why.

National spokeswoman Andree Froude said for many years spending on pokies was going down but about three years ago it started rising.

“All of a sudden we have seen this spike in spending and we do need to understand what is happening and why it is happening, because we don’t believe it is because people have more money.”

The latest quarterly statistics on pokies in pubs and clubs released by the Department of Internal Affairs last week continued recent trends, with increasing profits but decreasing gaming machines and venues, the department said.

Across the country, $227 million was made in gaming machine profits in the June quarter, up 3.1 per cent on the same period last year.

In the year to June 30, spending on pokies in Masterton rose to $4.18m from $3.95m a year ago, in Carterton it rose to $1.62m from $1.14m, in South Wairarapa it rose to $440,426 from $361,348 and in Tararua it rose to $3.77m from $3.71m.

The spending per head in 2017/18 is highest in Kawerau, at $509.

Of the 67 territorial authorities, Tararua is ranked 29th with spending per head of $303.11 in 2017/18, Carterton 41st with $259.43, Masterton 47th with $237.42 and South Wairarapa 49th with $230.79.

Tararua has 119 pokies in 10 venues, South Wairarapa 65 in six venues, Masterton 64 in four venues, and Carterton 45 in three venues.

“We are really concerned about an increase in spending because if you see an increase in spending, you are often going to see an increase in harm,” Froude said.

Problem Gambling NZ is calling on the Department of Internal Affairs to look at why the spend on pokies is rising.

Even when the number of pokies and venues stays the same, the spend has been rising.

During Gambling Harm Awareness Week the foundation is partnering with others on a national campaign called ‘Pause the Pokies’ and more than 60 venues around the country have agreed to turn off their pokies for one hour during the week.

One venue in Wairarapa is taking part – it will be announced shortly.

Froude said the social harm from gambling far outweighed the grants made to communities from trusts running pokie machines.

“We don’t consider it to be a very fair or ethical means of community funding.”

She said clubs were slightly different to trusts.

“With clubs, the money goes back into the club, but a pub is slightly different because the machines in the pub are owned by a pokie trust and the trust is the one making the decision about where the grants go,” she said.

Trust House Foundation is associated with the pokies at Jackson Street Bar, Kuripuni Tavern, and the Farriers in Masterton, each with 18 pokies, according to the Department of Internal Affairs.

It also has pokies at Greytown Hotel, Martinborough’s Pukemanu Tavern, and Pahiatua’s Post Office Hotel.

The Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand’s spokesman, Bruce Robertson, said gaming in pubs and clubs provided a safe, fun and regulated environment for those who chose to gamble.

If there were fewer local venues or machines, people would gamble online where there was little or no control and no community benefit, he said.

Robertson said on average 90 per cent of net proceeds went back to the local community, making a positive difference to local organisations, many of which would struggle to survive without the funding.

The proceeds made contributions to amateur sport, the operations of professional air rescue and air ambulance services, and hospices throughout the country.

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