‘Responsible’ legislation on gambling? You bet!
Recently United Future has been berated by critics who appear to have a visceral dislike of all forms of gambling, where nothing short of an outright ban would satisfy them. Instead, given the reality of gambling, we negotiated a sensible regulatory framework with the Government.
Much of the focus has not been on the bulk of the Bill which provides for community involvement in determining the limits of gaming. Harm is limited with the introduction of an integrated problem gambling strategy paid for by the industry; the number of pokie machines is limited by about 3000; the moratorium is extended on casinos; there is electronic monitoring of all gaming machines, and an independent gaming commission will set up a transparent and accountable process for setting gaming levies.
Unfortunately the focus has been on a relatively small aspect of the Bill that includes provisions for the Lotteries Commission to engage in remote interactive gambling. Let me state clearly, this was not a United Future initiative. In the process of ongoing negotiations we acceded to Government in order to secure the provisions listed above. The rationale for allowing such a concession was sensible; given that Internet gambling already exists and, short of our being electronically cut off from the rest of the world, is here to stay. Our support rested on the argument that some of the funds should remain in New Zealand – a portion of which would go towards the gaming levy to address some of the effects of problem gambling. It is commonsense to provide a mechanism where Internet gaming is part of the solution to some of the problems it creates. Another consideration was that, rather than being ‘anti-family’ this was a pragmatic initiative to sustain the Lotteries Commission which supports New Zealand communities.
As to the outburst of Major Campbell Roberts of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, while I apologise if I gave the inaccurate impression that he was a Labour party member, he was nevertheless, in my opinion, vitriolic, partisan and unconstructive. Why berate eight members of Parliament who did not advocate internet gambling whilst never criticising the fifty-two Labour members who did! If it was simply in response to my media release and the admittedly ill-advised wording I employed, then as soon as that was addressed (and it most certainly was), then the matter should have at least moved on to the substantive issues at hand.
But as I patiently waited, not one word was said about the many positive aspects of the Act. For the benefit of those who haven't been able to follow the detail, the following has been achieved through the Gambling Act: There will be a cut of 3000 in the number of pokie machines allowed in the country. New gambling venues will have nine machines, not the current maximum of 18.
There will be no more casinos. We have guaranteed that local communities will continue to have control the distribution of profits; this will not be left to a centralised bureaucracy with its own agendas. We have begun the process of establishing an independent Gambling Commission with transparent accounting practices and responsibilities.
We have set a limit of $20 on pokie machine banknote acceptors. Previously some machines had banknote acceptors with no limit. And on the subject of Internet gambling, the situation is this: Internet gambling has always existed and will exist as long as New Zealand is electronically connected to the rest of the world. The Lotteries Commission went to the government, asking for the right to run games like Lotto on the Internet because it was ‘bleeding’ income to overseas operators.
The Government agreed and on balance, we did too, thinking it was better that some money come back into the country to help fund problem gambling programmes, rather than line the pockets of foreign operators.
These are significant family-friendly gains and we make no apology for acting in a commonsense way. I am encouraged in this stance by a letter received from the chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, Chris Moller, in which he thanks the United Future MPs for the way they handled the Bill.
He says Rugby's 27 provincial unions and 520 clubs had a genuine fear of pokie machine revenues being centralised by a Wellington bureaucracy. He says this would have resulted in less money going into community rugby, leading to the death of a number of clubs and fewer jerseys and rugby balls for children.
Mr Moller says New Zealand Rugby appreciates the commonsense United Future showed on this issue: “It was good to see some Members of Parliament who understood the practical impact on the community of any changes to pokie machine revenues and who understood the crucial role sports plays in the health and social well being of families in New Zealand."