A TVNZ story this week raised concerns held by Manukau Ward Councillor Alf Filipaina that weak legislation is shutting out local communities from participating in civic processes to address gambling harm. Alf told TVNZ that his community lost more than five million dollars to the pokies last quarter. His community, like many others that experience high socio-economic deprivation, are exposed to six times the number of pokie machines than other, wealthy communities.

Hāpai Te Hauora, the largest Māori Public Health organisation in Aotearoa, has held national and regional public health contracts in gambling harm prevention for many years. Hāpai has repeatedly heard from communities frustrated by the presence of pokies in their neighbourhood and the difficult and often unsuccessful processes available to them to achieve change. We know that they want a new norm, a future for their mokopuna that doesn’t include pokie venues next to their local libraries. But making this a reality has proved difficult, as weak gambling legislation shuts out local councils and communities from making decisions on the density and distribution of gaming venues. 

Rebecca Ruwhiu-Collins, Prevention and Minimisation of Gambling Harm National Coordinator says the harms from problem gambling are well-known and wide-reaching. "The downsides of problem gambling are as big as issues like entrenched intergenerational poverty and mental illness. Obviously these are things which have huge implications for our communities. But how do we combat such overwhelming health inequities? Restoring the democratic rights of communities to have a say about the prevalence of pokie venues is the first step."

Hāpai Te Hauora Public Health Advisor Haylee Koroi supports Ruwhui-Collins and Councillor Filipaina’s concerns "We cannot leave communities to deal with the devastating repercussions of gambling, without first giving them the right to influence change."

Appeals such as Councillor Filipaina’s, from local councils and elected representatives, are indicative of the need for legislative change. Ruwhiu-Collins suggests it is time to revisit the original Gambling Harm Reduction Bill. Amendments were brought forward by previous Māori Party co-leader, Te Ururoa Flavell in 2010. Although the suggested amendments were severely watered down before being passed, its original intent was to "enable local authorities, in consultation with their communities, to reduce the number of, or even eliminate" pokies from areas where harm is particularly prevalent. If reducing health inequity is truly a priority for the government, then we must remove the barriers that continue to disable communities' participation in democracy.