New Zealand’s Southland District Council Puts ‘Sinking Lid’ on Its Gambling Policy

Posted on: May 17, 2022, 05:45h. 

Last updated on: August 30, 2023, 08:01h.

Southland District in New Zealand wants to know if its gambling regulations meet the public’s approval. It is now accepting feedback on its “soft sinking lid” plan, which has reduced the number of gambling machines in the territory.

Southland District Council
Southland District Council’s office. The New Zealand territory is accepting feedback on some of its gambling policies. (Image: Southland Express)

Gambling machines have fallen out of favor with regulators in many countries. But Australia and New Zealand are leading the charge. In New Zealand’s Southland District, the number of machines has fallen from 133 in 2013 to just 88 as of last September.

This is by design, as the territory has a long-term plan to phase out the machines. Its “soft sinking lid” scheme allows current electronic gambling devices to remain, but prevents the issuance of new licenses. The Southland District Council now wants to know how its residents feel about the plan, according to the Otago Daily Times.

Poking the Community

The council believes the scheme is working. It highlights a decline in the number of gambling properties, as well as in gaming machines, since 2013. However, while the number receded, revenue didn’t. The revenue has remained “relatively neutral” during the period.

At the same time, the drop hasn’t impacted problem gambling initiatives one way or another. There haven’t been “increases or decreases in the number of people” requesting help for problem gambling, as attrition in the market continues.

Still, the council needs to hear from the local community. That is part of the policies in force, which according to New Zealand laws, require a review and public consultation period every three years. Residents have until the middle of next month to provide their feedback.

The “soft sinking lid” approach is beneficial because it allows for a gradual shift in the market. This means a slow transition occurs, without an abrupt jolt. As a result, commercial entities and the government are better equipped to facilitate new operations in order to generate income. At the same time, gambling consumers don’t feel a sudden impact following a significant change.

While Southland District won’t issue any new licenses, it will allow current permits to be transferred between entities. Existing machines operating under a license can be replaced if they malfunction.

Acceptable Circumstances

It isn’t likely that Southland District will receive a lot of negative feedback during its TAB and Gambling Venue policy consultation period. TAB is an official entity that offers betting services in NZ as a statutory monopoly.

The council has made minor adjustments over the years, and district residents are apparently satisfied with the status quo and have mostly forgotten about the gaming machines.

There are no TAB stores in the territory, limiting exposure to the machines. There are, however, TAB facilities in bars and other public places.

Over the past three years, the council hasn’t received a single request from any property looking to operate gambling machines. This seems to be a good indication that they are no longer a lucrative commercial endeavor in the territory.

Southland District, located on South Island, is a sparsely-populated territory, which may contribute to the lack of interest. There are approximately 32,700 inhabitants in the region. Based on its size of almost 11,500 square miles, this means the population density is only about .5 people per square mile.

Once the consultation period closes, a public hearing will follow. That will take place on June 23, after which the council will review all of the input, both written and verbal. A new draft policy could emerge as soon as July 13.