Dept Of Internal Affairs Lose At High Court On Pokies Relocations

Published: Tue 20 Feb 2024 12:15 PM
There are too many pokies in Aotearoa New Zealand says Colin Bridle, Deputy Chair of Feed Families Not Pokies Aotearoa, but that could be about to change thanks to a landmark judgement at the High Court.
“If a local authority has a sinking lid policy on pokie venues, then the sinking lid should be allowed to sink. That’s the law” Bridle said.
The Department of Internal Affairs had been using a workaround to allow venues to relocate their pokies, despite a 2013 amendment to the Gambling Act, the purpose of which was to facilitate community involvement in provision of gambling. The amendment included a comprehensive legislative and regulatory regime governing the number and location of pokie venues, including relocations.
“Today’s High Court decision puts the power back where it belongs: in the hands of communities, through their local elected representatives.”
In May 2023, Feed Families Not Pokies Aotearoa applied for a declaratory judgment that unless a territorial authority has adopted a relocation policy as part of its class 4 venue policy, the relocation of pokie venues within its district is not authorised by law.
In a decision released on 19 February, the High Court declared that the Department of Internal Affairs may no longer allow pokie venues to relocate under a previous High Court decision, known as the Waikiwi decision.
“A change in the location of a venue will only apply if the territorial authority so consents in accordance with its relocation policy. That extends to, and includes, the sorts of “minor” relocations which the High Court had found a safety valve for in Waikiwi. I accept that the Waikiwi workaround would now undermine the purpose of the Act, as amended in 2013, of placing the decision on venue relocations in the hands of territorial authorities.” Justice Palmer wrote in his decision.
“We are very pleased with the decision, but not surprised. The original Waikiwi decision made in 2013 should never have been used as a precedent” Bridle said.
“For over ten years, the Department of Internal Affairs failed in its duty to do what the law required. It allowed these Waikiwi relocations when it should not have. It systematically made decisions that favoured the interests of the pokies industry over the democratic decision making of communities. These decisions have now been found to be unlawful.
“There are now many more pokie machines and venues in Aotearoa New Zealand than there should be, because of the Department’s failure to do its job properly.Notes to editors:
· In June 2013, the High Court held that pokie venues did not require a new licence, or local authority consent, for a “minor change in location”. This became known as the Waikiwi decision.
· A few months later, in September 2013, the Gambling Act was amended to give local authorities the power to determine whether pokie venues could relocate.
· Despite this change to the Act, the Department of Internal Affairs decided to allow pokie venues to relocate, using the Waikiwi decision as a precedent.
· By August 2023, DIA had granted 24 out of 33 applications for Waikiwi relocations (of the rest, four were withdrawn, three were refused, and two were still under consideration).Decision of High Court:
The High Court action was taken on a pro bono basis by a legal team from Stout Street Chambers in Wellington. As with our other High Court action, we obtained counsel with the support of Te Ara Ture, a service provided by the Community Law Centres of Aotearoa Incorporated. Feed Families Not Pokies Aotearoa are extraordinarily grateful for that support and for the assistance being provided by counsel.Background on Pokies (from decision, paragraphs 3 & 4):
Pokies proliferated in New Zealand in the 1990s. Professor Peter Adams, of the School of Population Health and Associate Director of the Centre for Addiction Research at the University of Auckland, gives expert evidence for Feed Families Not Pokies. His evidence is that the proliferation of pokies led to sharp rises in problem gambling and other gambling harm. Manatu Hauora | Ministry of Health statistics show that, on average over the ten years from 2012/13 to 2021/22, a little over 60 per cent of the 5,765 people treated for problem gambling each year were treated for gambling on electronic gaming machines. Over half of those people were treated for gambling on pokies. The average amount of money lost by those playing pokies each year was $859.7 million per year from 2010/11 to 2021/22. This was significantly more than other forms of gambling, such as Lotto, despite the percentage of people participating in pokies being similar to, or less than, those participating in other forms of gambling.
Professor Adams’ evidence is that pokies are designed so that the sounds, visual effects, and the variable reward schedule of wins and losses, stimulate the brain’s “reward system”, bypassing normal cognitive brain function. It can induce a “trance-like” state or “machine zone” until, after continuous play, the gambler runs out of money. The public health literature is clear that constraints on availability are the most effective way of reducing gambling harm.

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