Flavell’s Gambling Bill

Kate Chapman at Stuff reports:

The Government is promising more reform of non-casino after a watered-down bill was reported back to Parliament yesterday.

Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain and Maori Party MP are due to announce a harm-minimisation package tomorrow.

That comes after a weakened version of Mr Flavell’s Gambling Harm Reduction Bill was reported back from the commerce select committee.

Prime Minister John Key said National and the Maori Party had found “some common ground”.

“I think the way Te Ururoa would see it is that . . . he’s got some wins.”

The bill aimed to return the proceeds of to the communities they were made in and give local authorities more control over gambling operations.

But the committee rejected the plan to return 80 per cent of profits, instead allowing for regulations to ensure more of the proceeds returned to the same geographical area.

It also ruled out imposing the use of pre-commitment, player tracking, or other harm-minimisation devices, saying it would be “premature to mandate specific approaches”.

And it ruled out removing horse racing from the list that could receive gambling profits.

Labour reserved its decision on supporting the bill but the Greens will now vote against it.

I don’t like the status quo in terms of the relationships between some of the pubs, gaming operators and charitable trusts that distribute community funding. It is seriously flawed.

However what was proposed in the original Flavell bill would have almost led to political corruption. It proposed that local authorities be out in place of handing out money from pokie machines in their areas. That would have been terrible. Could you imagine the patronage as local Councillors give money out to various local groups, in return for their support.

So what were some of the changes made to the bill:

  • Requiring councils to take over the distribution of funds – no submitters supported this, including the councils. It would have been a significant extra burden for them and would have politicised the grants process. It is a no brainer that this was deleted from the Bill.
  • Requiring 80% of proceeds to be distributed locally – this makes sense in principle, but 80% may not be the right amount, and the mechanism set out in the Bill (to require it in gaming societies’ licence conditions) was rather inflexible. The revised Bill allows the same thing to be achieved through regulations, which can be changed much more easily. There is no suggestion that the Government won’t proceed with regulations, so this is not a question about the policy, just the mechanism.
  • Requiring the use of harm minimisation devices – again, the Bill would have imposed this on societies through their licence conditions. The revision enables regulations to be made instead, which would actually allow a nationwide policy, rather than setting it through individual licences. Regulations are also more flexible to allow for new technologies as they become available. Again, the Bill has simply been changed to provide for a different mechanism, not to water down what Flavell is seeking.

Flavell has actually actually achieved some very significant policy changes, compared to the status quo. His bill has been re-drafted almost totally, but that is because with respect it was very badly worded – as many members’ bills are – as they don’t have PCO and government departments able to do it for them.

By focusing on the outcomes, rather than the mechanisms, Flavell has managed to get a pretty good victory – especially as his original bill could easily have merely been voted out as unworkable.

It will be interesting to see what the Greens do with their lobbying bill. The bill as worded is unworkable and draconian – something even they acknowledge. It would make some tweets between MPs and some members of the public on policy issues an offence. Will they compromise on the mechanisms proposed to get a bill that is workable, or will they insist on no significant changes leading to it being voted down? It is far easier to grand-stand than to actually achieve a workable solution.

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