After a public outcry, the council reverses its decision on pokie rules

Torohanga District Council was forced to change its mind about relaxing the gaming machine policy after months of public consultation and dozens of submissions. Locals in this town in New Zealand’s King Country are declaring victory after forcing council members to abandon their plan, which was announced last October.

Mayor Max Baxter was overjoyed when his council voted unanimously to continue sinking lids. The policy will reduce traffic and preserve existing pedestrian infrastructure, while also protecting citizens from falling debris and icy sidewalks.

At the end of the day, common sense won.

“The community has been heard,” Hill stated. “It’s democracy in action after 80 submissions and five requests to change the policy.”

Paul Singh, president of the Torohanga Sports Club, was one of many locals who spoke out against gaming machines. He told councillors that he hadn’t met a single person in town who desired more gambling. “I’m the President of our local sports club and I also raise cows for Federated Farmers,” Mr. Singh explained, “so I’m aware of what’s going on in this community.”

In a game of chance, you might be lucky if one out of every twenty guesses is correct. However, the odds are much more stacked against players when it comes to pokie machines, with punters only receiving about 20 cents for every dollar they put into them—and only 40 percent during government grant time. It’s always tempting as an operator to take this easy money, but Singh argues that it will only hurt your business in the long run, while Jarrod True, representing New Zealand gaming association Clubs NZ, disagreed, saying “it can’t possibly be worse than not having any revenue at all.”

By law, forty percent (40%) of nett pokie machine proceeds must go towards grants, which clubs have no choice but to comply with; however, many clubs do not comply.

He claimed that communities would suffer if pokies were not available.

The professor argued that removing gambling machines would not solve the problem of addiction. According to True’s research on New Zealand, which has a low rate of problematic gamblers and many gaming machines in communities across the country, people can gamble in two ways: at home with coins or at local establishments where games like poker and roulette have been installed since the 1990s.

However, Hohepa Walker of the Problem Gambling Foundation told councillors that national statistics do not accurately reflect the reality of addiction. He claims that many people suffer from problem gambling, but they go unnoticed and often do not seek help until it is too late to change their lives. “You can walk into a pokie venue, spend $500 on pokies, and walk out with no one knowing,” he says. This explains why so many people suffer in silence.”

Maraea Hetet, a Torohanga resident and anti-pokie campaigner, agreed with him. “I am Mana whine,” she introduced herself to the council. “I stand and speak on behalf of all those who cannot or will not speak for themselves.” When she heard that they might be able to allow more pokies into her community, it lit a fire in her belly; now in recovery from gambling addiction after decades of struggling with the disease, Heta gathered over 40 submissions to keep their sinking lid policy prohibiting slot machines entirely.

“For me, this is about breaking through an epidemic that is affecting our whanau,” Mrs Malaehuera’s grandfather Te Kura Peneha O says.

Hetet declared victory when she decided to ban video poker machines in her town. She hopes that other towns will follow suit and rid the community of these dangerous devices.

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