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Thursday, 25 April 2019 02:00 pm

Pokie machines split Hutt council, mayor refuses casting vote

THE GAMBLER: $27 million a year is lost on Lower Hutt's pokie machines. Image: Amanda Herrera

THE GAMBLER: $27 million a year is lost on Lower Hutt’s pokie machines. IMAGE: Amanda Herrera

THE BATTLE over Lower Hutt’s pokies machines is at a stalemate after councillors were split over a new policy, and Mayor Ray Wallace would not use his casting vote.

The council was voting this week on allowing gambling outlets in high deprivation areas to relocate to gambling hubs in central Hutt and Petone without losing any machines.

The current bylaw states the number would be reduced from 18 to nine if an outlet moved.

Councillors were split between those agreeing with the changes, and those who wanted to see a sinking lid policy on the valley’s 510 pokie machines.

The sinking lid policy means when venues close down, pokie machines are removed and the licence is lost.

Mr Wallace declined to place his casting vote, stressing the importance of a unanimous vote, despite an outcry from councillors wanting to push through the amendments on the night.

“We wouldn’t be moving forward as a council if we’re at a split decision,” he said at the meeting in Wainuiomata on Tuesday.

Deputy Mayor David Basset acknowledging the work during consultation period, called the council to trust the policy and regulatory subcommittee’s vote which recommended the council adopt the change.

“We need to trust the subcommittee has the best interest for the community. We need to trust them and all the work they’ve put in,” he says.

Councillor Michael Lulich, part of the subcommittee, who supported the relocation policy had a change of heart in front of his colleagues.

He switched his support during the debate to support the sinking lid policy.

Mr Lulich says he would not be keeping in line with his duties as a councillor if he did not support the sinking lid.

“I was elected to protect the community. My job as councillor is to protect the community from harm,” he says.

Voting against the relocation policy, Councillor Campbell Barry said it merely allows bars to relocate to a new area, “suck the blood out of the community, then relocate to the CBD, entrenching itself and creating a gambling hub”.
Other councillors believe the issue is not the Council’s responsibility, and is determined by central government.

“Government set’s the rule. It’s central Government’s responsibility,” said Councillor Max Shierlaw.

Chair subcommittee Margaret Cousins said the topic of pokie machines in Lower Hutt was a highly complex area with no perfect outcome.

“There is no utopia, it’s how we best handle it,” she says.

She also raised the issue of the non-regulated internet gambling websites.

Figures cited by the council show that $27 million is lost in Lower Hutt each year on pokie machines. Naenae, Taita and Stokes Valley are seen as high deprivation areas, with Naenae alone losing $3million last year on pokies.

Mayor Ray Wallace said the council would do more research on the gambling amendment options, and the council would be expected to decide on amendments next month.


Support agencies want sinking lid for Hutt pokie machines

Support agencies Problem Gambling Foundation and Salvation Army’s Oasis Centre both support the sinking lid policy, which has been adopted by 15 councils around the country.

George Darroch of the Problem Gambling Foundation says the councillors got hooked in by the topic of internet gambling on the evening, missing the point of the seriousness of harm that pokie machines have on communities.

He says although the concerns raised about internet gambling are legitimate, they account for only 1% of the 60% of clients seen who have issues with pokie machines.

“There’s been a strong consistent line by the gambling association that the internet is unregulated and cause for concern,” he says.

However Mr Darroch says the facts do not support it.

He says the only way to recognise the harm and injustices caused by pokie machines is with the sinking lid policy.

“Pokie machines cause rapid and immense loss to communities.”

He believes the relocation policy is not going far enough to protect the community and does not minimise the harm to vulnerable individuals and families.

At the meeting, Vicki Hirini, public health worker at Oasis Salvation Army, called the council to take the decision seriously.

“We need you to be responsible. Protect individuals, communities and whanau,” she said.



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