New Harm Minimisation Suggestions from The Greens

As Sky City and Prime Minister John Key continue to finalize the terms of their convention centre deal, responsible gambling advocates are becoming increasingly concerned about its effect on problem gambling rates. To help prevent a rise in problem gambling spending, The Greens have proposed some harm minimisation measures for SkyCity.

“The Green Party intends to implement sensible and pragmatic measures that reassert the role of public health as the primary driver of gambling regulation, rather than economic development and convention centres,” says Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei.

One of the proposed measures is the introduction of pre-commitment cards. Since there will be 230 new pokies at the casino, The Greens believe that pre-commitment cards would help poker machine players limit their spending. Players can set limits before they begin playing, and they will receive regular updates on their spending before being locked out once they have exceeded their budgets.

The Greens are confident that this measure would be effective but Mr Key is not convinced. He has spoken out against pre-commitment cards, starting that the measure would discourage players from visiting the casino altogether. There will certainly be a fierce debate on the issue, as we are certain that The Greens will not give up easily.

Greens To Stage Protest of SkyCity Deal

It is no secret that The Greens are opposed to the SkyCity convention centre deal. For months, the political party has argued that the deal is not only harmful to the local community but also that it was carried out in an unethical manner. This week, they will stage a protest of the deal by building a cardboard casino in Aotea Square.

From 7am to 6pm on Monday, October 14th, a life-sized casino made of cardboard will be located in the square. It will consist of 510 pokies, the total number of games that will exist in SkyCity Auckland if the convention centre deal is passed. The Greens encourage residents to visit the casino and write a message on the cardboard voicing their concerns to the government.

The idea of the protest is to show residents the scale of the SkyCity’s potential expansion. The gambling operator will be receiving an additional 230 pokies, and The Greens argue that this is the size of the average casino.

“SkyCity gets a whole new casino without having to go through any of the regulatory process required in law to set up a new casino,” says Greens co-leader Metiria Turei. “We want to show New Zealanders the scale of what the Government has gifted to SkyCity”.

Sinking Lid Policy May Apply to All of Dunedin

The year, Dunedin’s city council decided to enact a sinking lid policy on poker machines in the south of city. The plan is beneficial because the area has one of the highest concentration of pokies in the country, but politicians are now wondering if the sinking lid policy should apply to the whole city.

South Dunedin’s new sinking lid policy aims to reduce the number of games until there are only five pokies clubs containing a maximum of 50 games. At the moment, there are 12 clubs with 168 pokies, making the rate of games 12 pokies per 1000 people.

Throughout the rest of Dunedin, there are 3.4 pokies per 1000 people, which is far below the national average of 5 games per 1000 people. There is a cap of 362 pokies in 30 venues, but some councillors want to see a stricter policy.

Councillor Richard Thomson has requested that South Dunedin’s sinking lid policy apply to the whole city. He believes that this will help to reduce problem gambling rates across all of Dunedin. As expected, club and pub owners are not on board, so there will likely be a heated debate over the issue.

Sky City Convention Centre Bill Passes First Reading

Last week, SkyCity and Prime Minister John Key finalized their plans for the Auckland convention centre deal. The proposal was presented as a bill to the local senate, and passed its first reading – but not by very much.

The deal will see SkyCity build Auckland’s new convention centre, investing $402 million into the project. In return, the casino operator will receive an additional 230 poker machines for its Auckland location, a number of new table games and an extended gambling license.

Local residents have been sceptical of the deal since it was first revealed. The Greens and other political groups tried their hardest to lobby against the deal, but it was no use. The project’s negotiations continued and its legislation has passed its first read by a vote to 59 to 61.

SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison believes that the bill has not been well-received due to supposedly slanderous media attention. He claims that his company’s reputation is being tarnished, despite the economic benefits that the convention centre will bring into the community.

The bill will be presented to senate for a second time in November 2013.

NZ Introduces Gambling Reforms

The New Zealand government has introduced new gambling reforms that will encourage gaming operators to return more pokie machine profit back into the community. The new laws will greatly benefit community organizations, providing them with more funding.

Currently, gaming machine operators are required to provide 37% of their profits to community groups. Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain states that the new reforms will ensure that pokies donate at least 40% of their profits. In the future, he would like to see this increase to 45%.

“I know it’s possible because many societies are already exceeding this amount,” Tremain says. “The top six societies average 40.5 per cent pay-out, with one of the top societies paying out 46 per cent.’

According to the New Zealand Herald, for every 1% increase, the gambling market will donate an additional $7 million in profits to local sports, education, arts and culture initiatives. This will greatly benefit the local community, and remove some of the stigma that gaming machines do more harm than good.

The new reforms will also ensure transparency when it comes to pokie grants. This will prevent gaming trusts from misappropriate funds and providing grants to organizations that are in eligible.

Final Sky City Convention Centre Deal Angers Locals

Sky City and Premier John Key have finally come to a settlement with regards to the terms of their convention centre deal. In return for Sky City spending $402 million to build Auckland’s new convention centre, the casino operator will be granted permission to install nearly 300 new games and will have its license extended.

The deal will go ahead as planned, even though the Auditor General confirmed that the deal was not entirely fair to other bidders. After the Auditor General weighed in, local residents requested that the deal be abandoned – but neither party would be deterred. Now, they have settled on a final plan – and residents are still incensed.

Sky City will spend $315 million on the construction of the centre and $87 million on land costs. In return, the casino will receive 230 new pokies and 40 new table games. The casino’s license will also be extended from 2021 to 2042.

“Sky City has been given preferential treatment from whoa to go and the Government has even bent the immigration visa rules to deliver rich gamblers to the casino,” says Rt Hon Winston Peters. “We can see little good coming from this shabby, seedy, money grubbing deal”.

It is likely that residents will protest the deal. Kiwis are not at all impressed with the terms of the deal, and they will fight to ensure that it does not go forward.

DIA Investigates Pokie Fraud

Three pokie trusts and several racing industry professionals are currently under investigation by the Department of Internal Affairs. They have been suspected of collaborating to fraudulently award pokie grants to ineligible organizations and individuals.

The three organizations that have been suspected of fraud are: New Zealand Community Trust, Infinity Trust and Bluegrass Trust. These groups have allegedly manipulated pokie grant applications, committing fraud worth $30 million in grants. At the centre of the scandal is racing trainer Mike O’Brien. It is believed that he worked together with the trusts in order to secure funds for himself and his clubs.

The Department of Internal Affairs has assigned 50 staff members to the case, and has issued 10 search warrants. O’Brien’s home and hotel room were the first locations to receive warrants, and his father’s home will also be searched. Warrants were also issue for pokie trust offices and the homes of pokie trust employees.

This is not the first time that local pokie trusts have been in trouble for misappropriating funds. This has happened many times before, with Bluegrass Trust and Infinity Trust both involved in previous scandals. It seems that there is a serious need to tighten up monitoring for New Zealand’s pokie trusts.

Pokies Spending in New Zealand Declines

Across New Zealand, politicians are throwing their support behind a new Harm Reduction Bill. This newly proposed legislation aims to reduce the potential harm that can be caused by pokies, by reducing the overall number of pokies in the country. Although the bill has yet to be passed, it seems to be working already, as Kiwis are spending less on poker machines.

According to statistics, pokies spending in New Zealand has dropped by 3.1% across the country. In 2011, New Zealand pokie players spent $866 million and these numbers dropped to $844 million by the time 2012 had ended.

Gaming experts speculate that the decline in pokies spending is likely due to the Harm Reduction Bill. Even though its provisions have yet to take effect, the bill has received a great deal of press in the local media. It has brought attention to the potential harms of poker machine gambling and it seems that this news alone was enough to get many residents to adjust their spending habits.

The drop in spending could also be attributed to the overall decline in poker machines across New Zealand. 463 pokies were removed from the community in 2012, as a result of local sinking lid policies. With fewer pokies to play, some residents are likely to have stopped playing altogether, contributing to the decline in spending.

Delay for SkyCity Convention Centre Report

Ever since Prime Minister John Key announced that he would allow SkyCity to install 500 new poker machines in return for building Auckland’s new convention centre, his planned has been criticized. Residents and politicians have taken up arms against the initiative, with The Greens requesting that an audit be performed before any decisions can be finalized – unfortunately, the process has not been simple thus far.

Firstly, the audit has taken twice as long than the average Auditor General investigation. The Office of the Auditor General has stated that most cases take up to 3 months to investigate; this case has taken twice as long, as the process has been more complex.

Now, the release of the report has been delayed by weeks. Originally, the audit was to be published before Christmas, giving residents a chance to give the investigation the attention it deserves. Now, the Auditor General has announced that the report will not be released until the new year – but The Greens are okay with it.

Party Co-Leader Metiria Turei believes that it is better for the report to take longer than anticipated than for the Office of the Auditor General to rush the publication. She hopes that the audit will shed some much-needed light on the nature of the SkyCity convention centre deal, providing answers to some of the many unanswered questions that members of the general public have posed.

Sports Fight Harm Reduction Bill

The Harm Reduction Bill, authored by MP Te Ururoa Flavell, has seen a great deal of support thus far. Local residents and city councillors are confident that the bill will improve the community by reducing the potential harm that they could cause. Unfortunately, not everyone sees the bill this way, as sports organizations are fighting the proposed plan for Harm Reduction.

The provision that sports organizations are resisting is one that will give city councillors the right to decide how pokies funds are distributed. Sports groups believe that pokies trusts should be in charge of the funds rather than city councils, and are worried that they will lose their funding as a result of this change.

Hawke’s Bay Roller Derby is just the latest group to lobby against some of the changed proposed by the Harm Reduction Bill. The group states that pokies grants currently provide valuable funding for equipment and services required by players, and the roller derby could greatly suffer is funding were to be cut.

The news comes just days after the New Zealand Rugby Union announced that the Harm Reduction Bill would drive participation fees up by 500%. The group obtains more than 20% of its funding from pokies grants, and the loss of the resource would result in negative changes for the league.

The NZRU and the Roller Derby group are just two organizations that have made submissions opposing this provision. The commerce committee will review these documents this month and present them at a hearing in November.