When poker machines were made legal in New Zealand, it was a condition that they could be owned only by trusts which, by law, had to distribute the profits to recreational and community organisations like schools, sports clubs, cultural groups and the like. At a time when changing work practices were allowing Kiwis less and less leisure time to devote to selling raffle tickets, sheep manure and cheese rolls, the distribution of pokie profits came as a godsend and in the years since, the only fundraiser in many voluntary organisations is the person who submits the applications for funding.
So we have a conundrum. Without pokie machine funding, grassroots sports, cultural and other organisations are unable to function in today's world. With pokie machines, large numbers of people (about one person in every eight of Dunedin's population, according to Chris Watkins of the Salvation Army's Oasis Centre for problem gambling) are being adversely affected. Rather than take the moral high ground and denounce the existence of pokies and those whose interests depend on them, Mr Watkins and Mr Jerry Banse, a social worker with a Maori social services provider, have invited representatives of 670 organisations which have benefited from gaming machine funding to a forum for discussing the issue and exploring alternative funding options. Seems like a reasonable move to me. But not to the leaders of the two "sports" that have benefited most, by far, from pokie profits in recent years.
Dunedin community newspaper "The Star" this week reported Otago Rugby Football Union manager Richard Reid and Otago Racing Club chief executive Andre Klein as saying they were unsure whether anyone from their organisations would attend the forum. Applying for pokie-funded grants did not present an ethical dilemma, they said.
Mr Reid: "The law is what it is. It doesn't create an ethical dilemma for me personally or for the rugby union - and I'm not sure why it should."
Mr Klein: "Help should be available for those with an addiction. The fact that what is a harmless leisure activity for most, such as playing a pokie machine, can generate so much funding for the good of the community, should be viewed as nothing but a positive."
In the past year, each of the aforementioned organisations received more than $140,000 of pokie money.
This in a week when Dunedin's food banks are crying out for donations to replenish shelves made empty, at least in part, by the needs of people disadvantaged as a result of gambling addiction. All you're being asked to do, Mr Reid and Mr Klein, is to send someone along to discuss the issue and see if there isn't a less painful alternative. Do you really need to be that insensitive?