New Zealand Considers Stricter Gambling Regulations: Proposals and Controversies Surrounding Pokies

New Zealand legislators are contemplating stringent measures for poker machines, commonly known as pokies, in an attempt to safeguard individuals from problem or excessive gambling. Similar to their Australian counterparts, these gambling devices are commonly found in licensed establishments like bars and pubs. Despite their tax contributions and philanthropic gestures, concerns over problem gambling persist.

A recent report by Stuff highlighted the tragic case of Morgan Barrett, a problem gambler who squandered his entire life savings of NZ$75,000 ($121,154) over a nearly 300-day pokie gambling streak. Unfortunately, Barrett passed away from a heart attack on the day he exhausted his savings.

This distressing event may catalyze nationwide reforms to restrict problem gambling and tighten regulations for pokie-providing establishments. Jan Tinetti, Minister of Internal Affairs, noted that Barrett’s case revealed loopholes allowing problematic gambling to occur in clubs and pubs.

The anticipated amendments to New Zealand’s gambling regulations aim to address these loopholes. Proposals include interviewing gamblers after two-hour pokie sessions and obliging establishments hosting pokie machines to monitor and document signs of problem gambling. Proposed limitations also include compulsory spending caps, making pokie machines less attractive, and lowering jackpots. Violations of these proposed changes would carry a fine of NZ$1,000 ($1,615) for bars and publicans, with gambling inspectors overseeing compliance.

While these proposed measures seem stringent, Andree Froude, Communications Director of the Problem Gambling Foundation, argues for more extensive efforts to significantly decrease the rate of problem gambling. Froude advocates for higher penalties for publicans, bars, and their staff to guarantee gambler protection and curb excessive gambling.

However, not everyone agrees with the severity of these proposed changes. Peter Dengate-Thrush, Chairman of the Gaming Machine Association, criticizes these proposals as “vague.” While he acknowledges some changes may be beneficial, he objects to most, especially the idea of making pokies “less appealing.” Dengate-Thrush also expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the Ministry of Health’s efforts to combat problem gambling, considering the rate has remained steady despite considerable spending. He likened problem gambling to problem drinking and criticized the broad scope of the proposed changes, asserting that 99.8% of gamblers participate responsibly.

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