The city of Christchurch has decided to retain its restrictive policies regarding poker machines following requests from anti-gambling campaigners and gambling addiction groups for local authorities to continue its suppression of pokies.
The City Council made no changes to its existing policy that regulates gambling and TAB venues. This means that the allowed number and location of non-casino gambling facilities remains as is. Christchurch’s current gambling policy was created in 2004 with mandated regulatory reviews every three years.
The City Council’s choice to leave the existing rules has not gone over well with all involved. The Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand has continually requested that Christchurch authorities consider relaxing gambling machine-related legislation.
Jarrod True spoke for the organisation, asking the City Council to conduct public consultations before settling on sticking to the current rules. True requested that the Council replace the current sinking-lid policy with a more liberal approach, with fewer limits on machines. He additionally asked for local authorities to allow operators to move their poker machine licences between different sites.
The 17-year-old sinking lid policy prevents competent authorities from supplying new operating licences for gambling in local clubs and pubs, as well as prohibiting the movement of existing poker machine licences to different locations within the city.
At the moment, there are 82 club and pub gambling venues in Christchurch, with 1291 operational pokies in total. The current number of poker machines in the city is far less than in 2004 when 2158 pokies were operating and the number of gambling was slashed by half over the same period, from 164 to 82.
An official City Council report advises that while the number of gambling venues and poker machines in Christchurch has fallen significantly, the pokies per capita in the city is still higher than the national average. The report further reveals that there are 3.3 machines per 1000 residents in Christchurch while the cities of Dunedin and Wellington both toe the national average of 2.9 pokie machines per 1000 residents, while Auckland comes in at 1.9 per thousand.
Further concerns raised were that many Christchurch residents have sought out problem gambling treatment. With the city representing 8% of the total population of New Zealand, a concerning 10% of the people in the country under treatment for gambling addiction in 2020 came from Christchurch.
Pro-gambling groups, for their part, have asserted that the rapid growth of online gambling means that the strict limitations placed on poker machines are only truly affecting recreational players and not gambling addicts.