TAB push for pokies a concern

A push by the TAB for more poker machine venues and to capture grant money for the racing industry, has prompted concerns being raised to the Department of Internal Affairs.

Yesterday, Department of Internal Affairs regulatory gambling services general manager Maarten Quivooy confirmed the department was ''assessing the issues'' following concerns being raised by other poker machine trusts.

Those claims, which have been relayed to the Otago Daily Times from several gaming trusts, allege the TAB had made a recent push to sublet large pokie venues from pubs.

Mr Quivooy confirmed the department had asked the TAB ''to provide information to enable us to assess its approach and determine its appropriateness''.

The TAB, via the New Zealand Racing Board (NZRB) is permitted to operate pokies under the Gambling Act 2003. As a result of that legislation the racing sector could receive poker machine grants as an ''authorised purpose'', including promoting, controlling and conducting race meetings, including the payment of stakes.

''The department appreciates that there will be a range of community views on whether racing (or any other authorised purpose) is an appropriate recipient of gaming machine funding,'' Mr Quivooy said.

In the NZRB Statement of Intent 2013-16 chairwoman Glenda Hughes said: ''We have set the primary strategic goal of increasing distribution to the three racing codes by growing profit, including gaming, to between $160 million and $180 million annually by 2018''.

Mike Wemyss, of the NZRB, said the TAB had been involved with poker machines for a decade, initially through other trusts, until 2011 when it successfully applied to the Department of Internal Affairs to become a pokie operator.

Conditions meant gaming machines could only be in venues where the TAB owned or leased the sitesThe TAB operated 32 poker machine sites, including five in the South Island, around the country, and he confirmed two applications were before the Department of Internal Affairs for poker machine venues in Gisborne and Lower Hutt.

''The TAB retail plan has a number of other potential movements that we are looking at as well.''

Potentially the TAB could add around six sites each year, but he cautioned the TAB was only a small player with 341 machines of the 17,500 in the country.

Since 2011 funds coming from TAB gaming machines were distributed to predominantly racing (at least 80%), and the remainder to amateur sport.

He said trusts gave more money to the racing industry than the TAB, and ''gaming is a small part of our TAB operation and we are a large corporate which turns over close to $2 billion in sales each year''.

For the period between August 8, 2011-July 31, 2012 the Racing Board returned grants totalling $3,781,668, of which $3,543,245 went to racing.

- hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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