Online gambling linked to lower pokie spending

The increased popularity of online gambling may be reducing the amount of money returned to the community through grants, a Dunedin City Council committee has been told.

Spending on Dunedin's pokies has been trending downwards, with $5,730, 681.28 spent between April and June 2007, compared to $4,720,582.89 between October and December 2012.

In New Zealand, gaming machines or ''pokies'' are operated by charitable trusts. By law, around a-third of all takings have to be returned to the community as grants.

The city has 42 gaming machines venues, down from 55 in June 2007.

Council liquor licensing and projects officer Kevin Mechen said it was suggested at the council's planning and environment committee meeting held on March 5 that online gambling could be a potential factor in the decline in slot-machine use.

According to his report to the committee, ''internet gambling is gaining in popularity, especially amongst the younger, more computer-savvy people, and women who find gambling in the privacy of their own homes more attractive.

''It is convenient because it can be played in private at any time and at any location where internet access is available and has no restrictions.''

''Money that is gambled on the internet is just gone,'' Mr Mechen said.

''At least with other forms of gambling a portion of the money will go back into the community.''

A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson said the only legal online gambling providers in New Zealand were the TAB and the Lotteries Commission.

However, it was impossible to prevent people from using offshore online gambling sites and the Government had no way of taxing them, he said.

Nationwide, money spent on the pokies had been declining for the past several years but it was entirely speculation as to whether online gambling was a factor behind this, he said.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said he did not think online gambling was having an impact on pokie takings.

''We've been expecting online gambling to increase rapidly and we've been quite surprised to see that it hasn't,'' he said.

''Problem pokie gamblers tend to have a relationship with their machine and they aren't likely to transfer it to something else.''

Mr Ramsey instead put the decline in pokie use down to greater knowledge about gambling and addiction.

''New Zealanders are starting to see pokies for what they are ... dangerous machines,'' he said.

Little information was available on the prevalence of online gambling in New Zealand. However, a significant indicator was that few people were coming to the foundation with addiction problems, he said.

Problem Gambling Foundation Dunedin councillor and health promoter Thomas Moore said online gambling, especially through poker sites, was a problem his organisation had been aware of for several years.

It shared several similarities with slot-machine gambling - the speed, which created a more intense experience, the social isolation, and the repeat money withdrawals which could lead to users spending far more than they intended.

In 2010, the Health Sponsorship Council's health and lifestyles survey found 8.7% of people surveyed gambled online although most used either the TAB or MyLotto.

- by Jonathan Chilton-Towle

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