Gambling reforms don't go far enough - Councillor

By Contributor

Auckland councillor Josephine Bartley with a picture of her mother Ruth, who she says had a chronic gambling problem which led to her eventually losing the family home. Photo / Stuff / Abigail Dougherty via LDR

By Stephen Forbes, Local Democracy Reporter

Auckland councillor Josephine Bartley says new government reforms designed to increase regulation of gaming machine venues and reduce problem gambling do not go far enough.

The government would have to go further if it wanted to reduce the impact of pokie machines in areas like South Auckland, she said.

Bartley has seen first hand the impact of problem gambling and has long advocated for greater regulation of the industry. Her mother Ruth, who died in 2019, was addicted to playing pokie machines.

Her addiction eventually spiralled out of control and led to the bank foreclosing on the family home in Māngere.

Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti announced the latest changes to the gaming machine industry on Friday which are expected to come into effect by May next year.

Under the reforms, pokie machine venue staff will now be required to identify and record problem gambling and undergo annual training on dealing with gamblers.

New rules around venue design will support harm minimisation by ensuring that staff can better monitor pokie machines and ATMs. The government is also introducing $1000 on-the-spot fines for operators that fail to comply.

"Pokies are known to be the most harmful form of land-based gambling in Aotearoa, so I'm really pleased we are making progress with strengthening the harm minimisation rules," Tinetti said.

"These changes will help make sure that pokies venues are identifying and acting upon harmful gambling consistently and more often."

But Bartley said Tinetti's changes did not go far enough.

"The announcement doesn't seem like much to me, especially considering the harm that problem gambling does to families," she said.

Bartley described the changes as piecemeal and said they were just putting more responsibility on venue owners, without dealing with the wider regulation of the industry.

Local authorities needed greater powers to regulate where gaming machines were located and how many there were in their communities, she said.

"Because we know they are in neighbourhoods where we already have high levels of deprivation, where people are struggling."

Councils were currently limited in what they could do to address the impact of problem gambling under the Gambling Act 2003, which needed to be overhauled, Bartley said.

"We need much stronger measures if we really want to tackle problem gambling."

A report to Auckland Council's regulatory committee in 2020 found more than half the people in the region seeking treatment for pokie machine gambling addictions were from south Auckland.

But despite Bartley's criticism, Problem Gambling Foundation spokeswoman Andree Froude said the government's latest announcement was a step in the right direction.

"At least these changes raise the bar in terms of host responsibility and compliance," she said. "And we're hoping this is just the first step in some long overdue changes."

Froude said Tinetti had already signalled plans to review the Gambling Act, which she said was "no longer fit for purpose".

In September the minister said she recognised there were issues with the Gambling Act 2003 in its current form and had instructed officials to look at reviewing the legislation next year.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air