Auckland Councilor Josephine Bartley has seen firsthand the destructive impact of problem gambling and is calling for changes in the regulation of the slots industry.
By local democracy journalist Stephen Forbes
Bartley is the vice-chairman of the council’s regulatory committee and grew up in Māngere, South Auckland.
She said her mother Ruth, who died in 2019, was addicted to slot machines.
“My mum was a chronic gambler and we lost our family home because of that,” she said.
“So I fully understand the pain this causes.”
Bartley said it was a surprise to her and her siblings when they first became aware of her prolific gambling habit.
“We found out after people started telling us how much money she owed them.”
Bartley said his father died in 1997 and his mother’s gambling spiraled out of control after that and eventually led to the bank foreclosing the family home.
“That’s the problem with addiction, you can’t control it,” she said.
But Bartley said that despite the impact it had on them, his mother never received treatment for her gambling problem.
Bartley said coming to terms with her mother’s addiction hasn’t been easy for the family.
“We’ve been through hell and back since. But we had to carry on as a family and be there for each other. It’s a long journey.
She said there was a need to increase the powers of councils to regulate the industry, as local authorities are limited in what they can do to deal with the impact of problem gambling under the law of 2003 on games of chance.
“We need to have more control over where the slots are and how many,” Bartley said.
“Because we know they’re in neighborhoods where we already have high levels of deprivation, where people are struggling.”
A report to Auckland Council’s Regulatory Committee in 2020 found that more than half of people in the area seeking treatment for slot gambling addiction were from South Auckland.
Problem Gambling Foundation spokeswoman Andree Froude said the statistics highlight the need for stricter regulation of the industry.
“And that just shows how much money is being sucked out of these communities by slot machines,” she said.
In October 2020, Auckland Council voted to maintain its sliding lid policy for Class 4 gaming machines in the region.
The policy means that no new consents are issued for new venues and prevents pokies from one club from being transferred to another in the event of closure.
But Froude said that while sinking lids helped draw a line in the sand and prevent new sites from opening, they were very slow to reduce the total number of machines.
“I think a lot of councils feel crippled because they can’t do much to reduce the number of slots. Councils must have the power to evict them from areas where they cause the most harm.
In a statement, Home Secretary Jan Tinetti said she recognized there were problems with the Gambling Act 2003 in its current form and asked officials to consider review the legislation next year.
“I agree that more systematic change is needed to reduce the harms of gambling in general, including how to address the impact of slot machines on poorer communities such as South Auckland” , she said.
Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air