According to a very avid and vocal player in New Zealand, the local council should be given more power to decide the fate of the nation’s controversial land based poker machines. There are currently 61 such pokies in the player’s hometown; Ōtaki, a settlement just north of Wellington. This number is a lot higher than the number that is recommended by the local council, which stands at just 42 machines. The player, known as James, has confessed that he has spent many thousands of dollars playing the terminals that have been under heavy scrutiny for their impact on many peoples’ lives.
James has explained to local media that the fact that he is self-employed hasn’t helped him to deal with the amount of time he spends playing the machines. The player noted that pokies’ ease of access might be a trigger for some gamblers to go and spend hundreds of dollars in pubs, clubs, and any other venues that host the contentious machines.
He also revealed that it is not out of the ordinary for him to play for six hours at a stretch, and that he has often stayed at such establishments all day – and well into the night – in order to play. Unfortunately, James says that the staff at such establishments do not check on him often during these sessions to discourage his problem gambling behaviours. Unlike when playing online, there are also no self-exclusion options or time limits that can be set, and this can lead to issues for players who do not know when to take a break.
Under a local by-law issued by the region’s Kāpiti Coast District Council, only 42 pokies machines are allowed to be operational in Ōtaki. The decision was passed in 2011, and at the time, the Council opted to use a ‘sinking-lid policy’ to govern the machines. This essentially means that no new pokies can be established in the town. Additionally, the council also has strict rules in terms of the relocation of the games when the venues that once hosted them close their doors.
According to Problem Gambling Foundation counsellor Andrew Brown, the sinking lid policy was a wise decision from the council. Alas, he says that the process is still a waiting game, especially since few of the establishments’ owners would be willing to remove such profitable machines voluntarily.
Over the past few years, pokies have increased dramatically in popularity, rapidly spreading gaming addiction among Kiwis. The town of Ōtaki, which has been described as a particularly vulnerable area, has seen countless locals becoming addicted to the machines, despite Mayor K. Gurunathan maintaining that the sinking lid policy was the best possible route to take.
With that said, the mayor has noted that it would be ideal to see more money returned to the community from the 192 poker machines along the Kāpiti Coast. The terminals generated NZ8.75 million between October 2017 and September 2018, and contributed a 6.8% return (NZ$710,000) to local community programs.