A bill designed to help deal with problem gambling passed the New Zealand parliament this week, though opponents of the final version of the bill say that it has been severely weakened from what was originally intended.
The measure, known as the Gambling Harm Reduction Bill, was sponsored by Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell. In its original form, it was designed to ensure that proceeds from gambling venues would be distributed back to the communities where they were located. Communities would also be given more control over gambling operations on the local level.
Numerous Provisions Deleted
However, many of those previsions were either removed from the bill entirely, or weakened significantly, by the time the bill was voted on. For instance, at one point, the bill was designed to ensure that at least 80 percent of all funds from gambling machines would be returned to the area where the gambling was taking place. However, that was vigorously lobbied against by groups such as the New Zealand Rugby Union, which said that some rugby clubs – which often earn significant revenues from gambling machines – would be forced to fold if they were subjected to that provision.
The watering down of provisions left many members of various parties unsure of exactly where they should stand on the bill. That led to the bill being voted on in a conscience vote: one in which members of each party were free to vote according to their own feelings on the bill, rather than on strict party lines.
The result was a narrow passage of the bill, with 63 voting for it, and 55 against.
Mixed Reactions to Bill’s Passage
Reactions to the measure were varied among various factions in New Zealand politics. For instance, Flavell himself said that he was happy that the bill had attracted so much attention to problem gambling in the country, but also that the bill was not the one he had originally hoped for when he sponsored it.
“It is a bittersweet moment for me,” Flavell said. “When I think back to where we came from and the original intent of the bill, of course I am disappointed, but I have chosen to pursue change, and in my view this bill represents a small step in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, other parties who were hoping for stronger anti-gambling legislation had plenty of negative comments about the bill. In a minority report, the Green Party said that the final version of the legislation achieved nothing that the original bill had aimed to do, and that the bill would now actually restrict the right of councils to reduce the number of pokies (slot machines) in their communities.
Meanwhile, Mana Party leader Hone Harawira had similarly harsh words, calling the bill an embarrassment for Flavell’s Maori Party.
“Anti-gambling groups and whānau were really keen when the bill first came in because it was going to cut back on the number of pokies in our neighborhoods, and keep any pokies money in their communities rather than let it go to the rich clubs on the other side of town,” Harawira said. “But the final bill doesn’t look anything like that. National stripped out all the good bits and left Te Ururoa with bugger all.”