Gambling seems to be on the decline in New Zealand these days. The same poker machines that were once a cause of great concern are generating less interest from residents, thus less revenue for publicans. At the same time, the initial fear that online gambling would become a bane for pokies addicts has begun to subside.
At the end of September, two long-time pokies destinations in South Canterbury were stripped of their poker machines. The enforced removal of the gambling devices came after both locations failed to meet revenue obligations set forth by the local government.
In the first six months of 2015, the Department of Internal Affairs reported that the Timaru District had seen $5 million pumped into its pokies area wide. As high as that figure may seem, it actually represents a declination of $100,000 from the same time period in 2014.
The owners of both taverns—the Wolseley Hotel in Winchester and The Jolly Potter in Tamuka—said that the majority of their players were not problem gamblers, but casual punters, although their reactions to the enforced removal were quite opposite.
Dianne Herbet is the co-owner of the Wolseley Hotel, and although she was skeptical of how the removal would affect her business, she’s since come to appreciate the lack of poker machines at the hotel. She said the response from patrons has been positive, and that she now considers the pokies to be “anti-social” attractions she’s glad to be without.
“We weren’t happy about it initially, but it’s been more positive than negative,” Herbert said, admitting that the majority of people who played them were not locals or problem gamblers, but rather travelers just passing through. “We’re pleased they’re not here any more.”
Laurie Sullivan, owner of The Jolly Potter, had a different reaction, calling the removal of the machines “a bit of a shame”. He chalked it up to economics, saying “we’ve just got to put up with it, really.”
Mr. Sullivan said the majority of his clientele who played the machines were “casual punters” who found added entertainment in the pokies. He noted that some of Timaru’s smaller businesses are likely to meet the same end soon enough.
Poker machines at pubs and hotels must meet or exceed a specific amount of revenue in order to maintain their machines. The required level is not static, but based on the trust that owns the location and the number of machines in operation.
Response from Problem Gambling Foundation
Graeme Ramsey, Chief Executive of the Problem Gambling Foundation, said the decline in pokies revenue is representative of a broader social shift. He said gambling profits have been steadily dropping in New Zealand since the 2003 climax, and pointed out that online gambling is not to blame.
“What you’re seeing in Timaru is just a reflection of a significant national trend,” said Ramsey. The district has seen its poker machine numbers fall from 268 to 239 in the last two years, and it’s his conclusion that the decrease is largely attributable to an increase in awareness of the harms that can come from gambling.
“We as a nation have woken up to gambling,” he said. “It’s not harmless entertainment any longer.”
Not long ago, the foundation feared that online gambling would give addicts an easier outlet; at the same time helping to create a whole new generation of problem gamblers. Ramsey noted, however, that those fears have been unfounded in New Zealand.