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Gambling Act balances harm with benefits

Gambling Act balances harm with benefits

Today’s passing of the Gambling Act will go a long way towards balancing the potential harm involved in gambling with benefits to the community, says Internal Affairs Minister George Hawkins.

The Gambling Act was passed this afternoon after its third reading in Parliament.

Mr Hawkins said gambling was a complex area and passing this legislation had been a major achievement.

“This has been especially so with the deliberate spread of misinformation by both the Greens and the National Party that gambling profits would be centralised.

“Despite constant denials from my office, these groups continued to beat that drum when they had no basis for believing it was true.

“This was reprehensible, political deceit pure and simple, aimed at scaring the many hardworking groups in our community who currently benefit from the proceeds of gambling.”

Mr Hawkins said the challenge when working on the Bill had been to balance harm against benefits. “I believe the Act achieves a good balance. “

The Act’s four main objectives were to control the growth of gambling, reduce harm caused by gambling, ensure gambling raises funds for the community; and ensure community involvement in decisions about access to gambling.

The Act establishes a risk-based approach to gambling, Mr Hawkins said. “On the one hand, it recognises smaller activities like raffles and housie pose little community risk and therefore allows groups to run that sort of fundraising without a licence, provided the rules are stuck to.

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“On the other hand, it focuses on pokies, because this is the area of most risk.”

Mr Hawkins said the Act did not centralise gaming machine fund distribution, but tightened transparency and accountability to limit opportunities for dishonesty and ensure gambling money benefited the community.

Electronic monitoring of all pokie machines would be required within the next three and a half years. As well as providing that there would be no more casinos the Act also contains measures to control the pokie numbers, if that was what communities wanted. Any venue that did not hold a gaming machine licence on 17 October 2001 must obtain Territorial Authority (TA) consent to operate. This meant a TA could refuse to allow any new gaming machine venues to operate in their area.

Mr Hawkins said an important aspect of the Act was a public health approach to reduce harm caused by gambling.

A levy, set after consultation, would cover the cost of a public health strategy to this end, with each part of the sector paying according to the harm its products caused.

The Lotteries Commission would be able to sell relatively harmless products by way of remote interactive gambling, Mr Hawkins said.

“A variety of provisions, in this and other Acts, mean that the Commission will not offer highly addictive products,” Mr Hawkins said.

Interactive gambling was not a new market in New Zealand.

“For instance, the TAB has run remote interactive gambling on the Internet since 1998,” Mr Hawkins said.

Another key feature of the Act was the inclusion of aspects of racing, acknowledging that racing was a gambling product as well as an important industry for New Zealand.

Mr Hawkins said he believed everyone gained when gambling was honest and transparent, when harm was minimised, and when profits benefited the community.

“I am confident that the Bill strikes an appropriate balance and will significantly improve the current system,” Mr Hawkins said.

Mr Hawkins thanked the many members of the public who had made submissions on the Bill during its gestation, as well as community and industry representatives for their input over the several years since the Bill was first mooted.

Rarely had a piece of legislation been so transparently worked through, Mr Hawkins said. “During the process, the public has been kept informed of the Bills process, with wide consultation undertaken and numerous documents, including Cabinet papers and minutes available on the Internal Affairs website throughout.”

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