Pokies: Caps Proposed in Wellington's Suburbs

12 February 2010

Wellington City Council's Strategy and Policy Committee has voted to consult on a proposal to set a population-based limit 'cap' of one gambling ('pokie') machine per 300 people in the city's suburbs.

The proposed approach specifically targets Johnsonville, Tawa, Miramar, Karori and Newtown - areas of concern with significant numbers of pokies. 

The central city would continue to have no restrictions on the number of pokies or pokie venues - although numbers have been declining since the introduction of the Gambling Act in 2003.

The vote at yesterday's Strategy and Policy Committee meeting will have to be approved by a full Council meeting on 24 February before the cap proposal would be subject to public consultation in March and April.

The Council's recent review of its Gambling Venues Policy (formulated under the Gambling Act) found that its approach to pokies had, generally, been working well with many of the existing zones having pokie numbers well below the limits currently allowed.

The Council's Social Portfolio Leader, Councillor Ngaire Best, says the review found significant clusters of pokies in the five suburbs with population profiles identified as vulnerable to problem gambling. Although Council's role in regulating pokies is restricted by limitations prescribed in the Gambling Act, this new approach would go some way to addressing this issue.

Overall, the number of gaming machines in Wellington city has decreased since the adoption of Council's last policy in 2007 (from 834 machines to 797 in December 2009). However, there are still 87 gaming machines in Johnsonville, 72 in Newtown, 42 in Tawa, 35 in Karori and 18 in Miramar - compared with, for example, 7 in Island Bay and 9 in Khandallah.

"Studies from the Ministry of Health and feedback from the Problem Gambling Foundation suggest that gaming machines cause a lot of harm in the community and increased access results in more problem-gambling," says Cr Best. "The Council wants to ensure it is doing the right thing by helping curb problem gambling in the community, not adding to it."

The Council's Gambling Venues Policy also recognises the benefit to the general community from funding generated from pokies (one-third of which is redirected to community sports, services and recreation). The policy does not immediately impact on existing pokie venues as they are 'grandfathered' under the Gambling Act.

Over time, as venues change their licensing conditions, there will be a gradual decline of pokie numbers as numbers will not be allowed to be replaced above the newly established caps. Because of the gradual nature of the decline, the immediate impact on community funding is likely to be minimal.