Playing By The Rules

Published September 9, 2003 by OCR Editor

Playing By The Rules

New Zealand - The Government is ignoring the concerns of the Labour Party's ruling council over gambling law reform. The bill's other supporter, United Future, is drawing flak from a Christian social service organization.

Internal Affairs Minister George Hawkins indicated in Parliament yesterday that further changes would not be made to the Gambling Bill, despite the ruling council's concerns. Those concerns were delivered to the party caucus meeting yesterday by president Mike Williams.

Last night amendments to the bill were passed allowing the Lotteries Commission to run internet gambling, letting poker machines accept notes up to $20, and requiring consultation with the gaming industry on a proposed problem gambling levy. National MP Nick Smith said the bill "may as well be called the state-sponsored gambling bill".

New Zealand First MP Peter Brown said allowing internet gambling would damage families. "It will split families and turn the moderately wealthy into the poor." The Council of Christian Social Services said earlier that it was "devastated" United Future was supporting the bill and the amendments, particularly the one allowing internet gambling.

Spokesman Major Campbell Roberts said the package of changes Labour and United Future were trying to sneak through would "tear families apart". On Monday, Green MP Sue Bradford released to the Herald a Labour Party council memo outlining its concerns at aspects of the bill being imposed on the Government by United Future "through a series of anti-family amendments".

The council opposed:
* The gambling industry's involvement in setting how much money should be levied for the funding of problem gambling services.

* Internet gambling.

* The ability of poker machines to accept banknotes.

It urged the Government instead to advance the bill "in a form that minimizes gambling-related harm, maximizes transparency and protects the interests of those on low incomes". Mr Williams told the Herald yesterday that it seemed to him too late now to change the bill, noting that Labour led a minority Government that had to do deals to "get things through".

When it was put to him that the Government had just tabled a 65-page amendment package, he maintained it was too late to change anything. "I did what I was asked to do - I took the concerns of the consensus in the council to the caucus. What happens after that is, frankly, their business." Asked if he was concerned about the issue, he said he trusted the party's parliamentary wing.

The gambling bill:
Establishes a Gambling Commission to regulate the industry with the Department of Internal Affairs.
Bans new casinos and expansion of existing ones, and gives councils some control over the licensing and location of gambling venues.
Retains locally based distribution of non-casino poker machine profits.
Restricts the number of machines on a site to nine - half the present limit - if operators were licensed on or after October 18, 2001.
Funds problem gambling services through a levy on operators.

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