The Government is being urged to shut down New Zealand’s pokie machines and itself replace the grant money they generate for Kiwi community organisations and sports codes.

A coalition of The Salvation Army, Problem Gambling Foundation and Māori health agency Hapai te Hauora have written a ‘white paper’ for Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin arguing that the Government could easily replace the annual $242m of pokie grants from its own coffers.

The agencies argue that the Covid-19 shutdown of pubs (and therefore pokies) has presented a “golden opportunity” for complete reform of the system. The sector has warned of a huge drop in grants this year because of the shutdown.

Martin says there is $2.5m in the Budget for a review of the “wider gambling framework”, but that will initially tackle the unregulated online gambling market. She’s unlikely to heed radical calls for a complete shutdown - but could overhaul the system itself.

But the white paper has drawn a stinging rebuke from pokie trusts, who’ve accused the agencies of using deliberately misleading figures to support their analysis.

The paper says coronavirus “starkly highlighted the dependency of community organisations” on pokie grants, but argues many only take the money because they have no other choice.

Because 50 per cent of pokies are in the poorest areas, the agencies say the system redistributes money from poor to rich, and with only 1.3 per cent of Kiwis regularly playing the pokies, relies on a small group of problem gamblers who cannot afford their outlays.

It says: “The system… is based on the assumption that it is acceptable for a small proportion of New Zealanders living in the poorest communities to lose money in support of a national benefit.”

The paper advocates for a temporary shutdown to allow for a review of the system, and for Government to cover six months’ worth of grants - $120m - while devising a new model.

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Stuff NZ - Ban pokies for good? Salvo's and Problem Gambling's bid to Government