Gambling policy review throws up division

A review of Dunedin's gambling policy has attracted about 800 submissions, with 49 planning to voice their opinions in front of a hearings committee.

While exact figures had not been calculated, Dunedin City Council governance support officer Jennifer Lapham said yesterday the majority of submissions were in support of retaining the council's policy, but "a lot" were keen on an option to cap the number of gaming machines.

The council is reviewing its gambling and TAB venue policy two years after the last review, when a bid to adopt a sinking-lid policy on poker machines - the council's preferred option at the time - failed, despite the emotional pleas of problem gamblers.

That decision was made in part because the number of venues and machines in the city had already dropped, and a report on the issue last year said that decline was continuing.

The policy the council introduced in 2007 prohibited new venues in residential or recreational areas unless they were for organised sporting venues.

Since its introduction, there has been a steady decline in the number of gambling venues and electronic gambling machines in the district.

But a large number of gaming venues were in deprived areas of Dunedin, where people were at greater risk of developing gambling problems.

Ms Lapham said many of the submissions to retain the status quo were from organisations like schools and churches that benefited from funding from gambling trusts.

Groups making submissions included the Lion Foundation, the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand and Catholic Social Services.

The 2007 hearings were marked by moments of high emotion, as people affected by problem gambling gave emotional speeches to the committee.

There was a clear divergence of opinion between the numerous groups that benefited from gaming funding and those who dealt with the aftereffects of problem gambling.

The hearing will sit on February 18, before Crs Michael Guest, John Bezett, Fliss Butcher and Colin Weatherall.

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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