Even tighter pokie rules?

New rules on poker machine numbers in Dunedin could be tightened even further.

A sinking-lid policy in South Dunedin and a cap for the rest of the city were adopted by the council yesterday.

However, a tougher sinking-lid policy could be introduced across the whole city following an impassioned speech from Cr Richard Thomson.

After much debate over the past several years about how to reduce the harm caused by pokies - install a sinking lid or a cap - the council recently consulted the public specifically on whether they wanted the number of pokies in the city capped.

A hearing was held and following deliberation of the more than 600 submissions, including many supporting a city-wide sinking-lid policy, a councillor subcommittee recommended the council adopt a sinking lid in South Dunedin, where there were many machines and high levels of deprivation, and a cap for the rest of the city.

Cr Thomson asked why the subcommittee felt a sinking lid was inappropriate for the rest of the city, prompting chairwoman Cr Kate Wilson to say it was because the number of machines in South Dunedin was above the national average and the rest of the city was below the average, so a sinking lid was only needed in South Dunedin.

Cr Thomson said he felt uncomfortable suggesting changing the subcommittee's recommendations when he was not part of the hearing.

However, as a former clinical psychologist with a background in understanding how pokies and the environment they were in worked and interacted with the human psyche, he found it ''incomprehensible'' the council would not wish to reduce that.

The machines worked on psychological principles that kept people there, and the longer they kept people there, the more money they lost, he said.

''The money is taken from the poor and redistributed to those who are not poor.

''I, in all consciousness, cannot ignore that. I would like to see these machines reduced, and a sinking lid is one way of doing that without becoming the moral arbiter of the rest of the community.''

After the meeting was stopped for several minutes for staff to discuss whether the sinking lid could simply be expanded without further consultation, he suggested staff instead report back later on whether it could be done.

He did not intend to hold up adoption of the subcommittee's recommendations in the meantime.

Cr Lee Vandervis said an expanded sinking lid was a philosophical and moral decision the council could take to recognise gambling harm.

Cr Chris Staynes, a member of the subcommittee, said he was not against an expanded sinking lid, but the committee was charged with a decision about whether to put a cap in place.

Cr Fliss Butcher said she was happy to see the sinking lid spread across the city, as long as that decision did not hold up the ''good work we were trying to do in South Dunedin''.

The recommendation to adopt the new mixed policy was passed, as was the recommendation for staff to do more work on a city-wide sinking lid.

A recommendation for the council to write to operators with good host responsibility practices was defeated, with some councillors, including Cr Vandervis and Mayor Dave Cull, concerned the council should not start patting pokie operators on the back for simply meeting their responsibilities.


Pokies policy

Present numbers

South Dunedin: 12.9 poker machines per 1000 people aged over 15.

Rest of city: 3.7 pokies per 1000 people aged over 15.

National average: 5.2 pokies per 1000 people aged over 15.

New rules

South Dunedin: Sinking lid applies until there are a maximum of five venues with a total of 50 machines, at which time it becomes a cap. (At present, 12 venues and 168 machines in this area)

Rest of the city: A cap of 30 venues and 362 machines (as at March 5, 2013).



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