The notion that the future of sport in this country might
rely on picking the pockets of people with gambling
addictions sticks in the craw. But finding, then treading,
the fine line between arguably exploiting the weaknesses of
individuals who can least afford it, and providing for the
huge social benefits of organised amateur sport, is no simple
It has moral and practical dimensions and is an issue likely
to evince a range of opinion. Nobody, however, should
countenance "sharp" or non-compliant practice in the pokie
sector - and mounting assessments that this is endemic surely
requires that an overhaul of the legislation and rules
governing it be instigated.
Sport has become addicted to the funds it receives through
pokie grants. In the six years from 2006 to 2011, sporting
organisations in New Zealand received a total of $817
million. Rugby topped the list of beneficiaries, receiving
$142 million, followed by horse racing at $99 million and
football at $60 million. Few sports do not benefit from the
grants: basketball, athletics, cricket, golf, netball,
league, water sports are all partially supported by them - as
the law permits.
The Gambling Act 2003 states pokie grants can be used to fund
a range of "authorised purposes" such as horse race meetings
and racing stakes and amateur sports teams and clubs.
Professional sport is specifically excluded.
There is little doubt many organisations have come to rely on
the funds they receive from pokie grants and could not
survive without them. So how did they get by in the past?
The nature of society has changed markedly in the past three
or four decades. Gone is the once-sacrosanct weekend, for
example, when nobody worked and every parent was a potential
volunteer to coach, run the touchlines, tend to the grounds
and drive transport to and from venues.
People's lives have become busier.
Both parents in a family often work and have weekend or
evening commitments. Many are sole parents, which further
limits the time for voluntary management of amateur clubs.
Further, the do-it-yourself attitudes that pervaded the
grounds and clubrooms of yesteryear have been somewhat
corroded by the creeping professionalism of sport at large.
To remain viable, sports clubs require funds - whether to pay
for uniforms, equipment, ground maintenance, code affiliation
fees or travel. Those funds increasingly fall on the
participants or their parents to provide, or have to be
raised by time-poor supporters.
The trajectory of rising costs can put sport out of the reach
of many of the people - especially children in the poorer
socioeconomic areas - who stand to benefit most from it.
Hence the attractions of funds from sources such as pokie
Critics argue this reliance poses an ethical dilemma for
sporting organisations. The Problem Gambling Foundation, for
example, suggests at least 40% of pokie revenue comes from
those identified as being problem gamblers.
For sporting organisations who see themselves as a force for
good in the community, their very support of pokie grants, it
could be argued, helps maintain a deleterious social
activity. On the one hand, the habits of problem gamblers are
sustained; on the other, the money those gamblers throw away
provides the infrastructure for healthy activities through
which a great many positive values are inculcated - and upon
which careers and future lives are built.
Gambling is a time-honoured tradition in many cultures.
Within reason, whether people wish to put their spare change
in piggy banks or pokie slots comes down to personal choice.
The law of the country is framed to constrain excess where
excess is identified as problematic. The legislation
surrounding pokie grants needs finessing: it appears the
current laws are being abused, resulting in unacceptable
money-go-round "rorts". As a consequence, the sector is
acquiring a bad name and the law is being made to look an
ass. That must be curtailed, and practices, if required,
But it is not enough to say pokie grants should be banned
Sports clubs and other charitable entities which genuinely
qualify for support should continue to receive grants. Those
that do not should be weeded out.