New Zealand Officials Cracking Down on Pokies: A Closer Look at Proposed Regulations

Robert Longthorpe - Senior Writer
Robert Longthorpe
19 June 2023 in News
New Zealand's Crack Down on Pokies

We here at may love pokies, but we also understand the severe risks to players that come with pokies that aren’t properly regulated. If you’re reading this from New Zealand right now, it’s important to keep up to date about the progress and challenges in the New Zealand gambling landscape.

New Zealand lawmakers are taking a hard stance against problem gambling, setting their sights on the widespread operation of poker machines, colloquially known as 'pokies.' Amid growing concerns about the societal impact of gambling, a series of rigorous regulations is being considered. Aimed at safeguarding citizens from excessive and problem gambling, these proposed rules present a stern message to licensed gambling operators.

Problem Gambling: A Serious Issue

While only a small fraction of New Zealand's population is currently affected by problem gambling, the issue has caught the attention of government officials and raised broader societal concerns. The recent story of Morgan Barrett, a man who lost his entire life savings of NZ$75,000 on pokies, has brought the issue to the forefront of public awareness. Tragically, Barrett passed away from a heart attack on the day he exhausted his savings. His story has underscored the gaps in the current regulations governing pokie machines and has catalyzed a push for more stringent control.

New Regulations in the Works

Reacting to the tragedy and acknowledging the need for stricter control, Jan Tinetti, New Zealand’s Internal Affairs Minister, confirmed that Barrett’s case "exposed gaps for prosecutions of pubs and clubs where harmful gambling takes place." Consequently, a new set of regulations has been proposed to fill these gaps and offer more significant protection for gamblers.

Under the proposed changes, gambling operators would be compelled to take a more active role in curbing problem gambling. After a two-hour pokie session, operators would be required to initiate talks with gamblers, a move designed to interrupt potentially harmful continuous play. Moreover, pubs, bars, and clubs hosting pokie machines would be required to monitor and document signs of problem gambling, bolstering their role in identifying and assisting those who might be at risk.

The new regulations also suggest mandatory spending limits for gamblers. These caps would help prevent individuals from spending beyond their means, mitigating the risk of severe financial losses like those suffered by Morgan Barrett.

The proposal also seeks to make pokie machines less appealing to players. This aspect would include reducing the size of jackpots which, in turn, would lower the allure of potentially significant winnings.

Non-compliance with the proposed regulations would result in immediate fines of NZ$1,000. Under these new rules, publicans, bar owners, and gambling operators would be held accountable for any violations.

A Call for Harsher Penalties and Greater Measures

However, despite these proposed changes, some feel that more stringent measures are needed. Andree Froude, the Problem Gambling Foundation’s communications director, argues that these penalties don't go far enough. Froude has advocated for higher fines to ensure more substantial deterrence and greater protection of gamblers.

Meanwhile, the proposed restrictions have met with opposition from some quarters of the gambling industry. Peter Dengate-Thrush, the Gaming Machine Association’s chair, deems a large portion of the government’s proposals as vague. He expressed concerns about the plan to make pokies less appealing, questioning the overall effectiveness of this measure. Dengate-Thrush also criticised the Ministry of Health's efforts to combat problem gambling, suggesting that despite substantial investments, the rate of problem gambling has not decreased.

A Stricter Regulatory Landscape Ahead

Despite contrasting views on the scope and scale of the proposed changes, the message from New Zealand's lawmakers is clear: the country is moving toward a stricter regulatory landscape in a bid to protect its citizens from the potential dangers of gambling. With these proposals, operators will face greater responsibilities and stricter scrutiny in their provision of gambling services. The effectiveness of these changes, however, will only become apparent over time. What is certain is that the pokie playing field is set to change significantly in New Zealand.

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