Let people power determine pokie numbers, says problem gambling expert

Wednesday 9 May 2012, 5:06PM

By AUT University


A gambling bill set to give councils and local communities the power to determine pokie machine numbers has been strongly endorsed by director of AUT University’s Gambling and Addictions Research Centre, Professor Max Abbott.

The Gambling Harm Reduction Amendment Bill will receive its first reading in Parliament on today.

Professor Abbott says the bill - sponsored by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell - addresses some significant concerns.  "If the major provisions are introduced it’s highly likely we would see a significant reduction in gambling-related harm in the community."

The bill proposes to give councils the power to eliminate pokies in venues that are deemed to be harmful. It also proposes the introduction of more robust harm minimisation measures including pre-commitment and player tracking, and a more transparent allocation of gambling proceeds back into the community. 

Professor Abbott says a major concern is that pokie machines are concentrated in poor neighbourhoods.

“Over 50% of problem gamblers come from the most deprived 20% of communities.  This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

"While there are indications that gambling-related problems are reducing in this country, the differences between major ethnic groups has not changed during the past 20 years.  Maori and Pacific people are still about four times more likely to be problem gamblers than other ethnic groups in New Zealand.  This - in part - is related to them living in closer proximity to pokies in clubs ad pubs."

Technology now exists that enables pokies to be made safer, says Professor Abbott.  This includes requiring participants to set upper time and loss limits and electronic monitoring to detect high risk gambling behaviours.

"There are ways to reduce the huge harm associated with pokies while allowing the majority of people who want to gamble in moderation to do so.   We need to get on with the Bill’s introduction both to help current problem gamblers and prevent others from developing problems in the first place."