Status quo for pokies suggested in report

Dunedin City Council staff are again recommending the council sticks with the status quo on gaming venues and machines in the city, rather than adopting a sinking-lid policy.

Since October 2001, the number of poker machine venues in Dunedin had declined from about 70 to just over 40 by November last year. During the same period, the number of machines, which peaked at more than 800 in 2005, declined from 700 to slightly more than 500.

Spending had tended to fluctuate between $4.4 million and $5.6 million in the past five years regardless of the number of venues.

In 2010, when Dunedin's gambling and TAB venue policy was last reviewed, councillors stuck with the policy - no limits on venue and gambling machine numbers, but a ban on establishing them in residential or recreational areas unless they were for organised sporting purposes - despite having received 815 submissions overwhelmingly in favour of changing to a sinking-lid policy.

The steady decline in numbers under the existing policy was the reason for not changing.

A report from council liquor licensing and projects officer Kevin Mechen to the planning and environment committee meeting tomorrow said since the last review staff had monitored venue and gaming machine activity and researchedproblem gambling.

The policy's objectives to reduce the number of venues and gaming machines in the district were being achieved and the decline continued, which was why staff believed there was no reason to change the policy.

It was recognised the no-change approach risked the council being seen as ignoring those in the community who had developed gambling problems, but the council needed to balance the legal right of gaming societies to operate against the harm gambling caused.

Current research indicated it was accessibility to venues rather than the number of venues which had the greatest influence on how much harm was caused and the council's policy addressed that by prohibiting new venues in residential areas.

Sticking with the status quo would have the advantage of being seen to be supportive of community groups dependent on grants from gaming societies.

Councillors could, however, decide to cap the number of venues and/or gaming machines in the city, which would have a negative effect on the industry, which was legally allowed to operate, or adopt a a sinking-lid policy, which could lead operators to closing unprofitable venues, thus reducing the amount of money returned to the community, the report said.

Submissions on the policy would open on April 8 and close on May 6.

-debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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