An anti-pokie advocacy group will argue more than a dozen pokie venues that relocated since 2013 should have been forced to give up at least half of the machines they originally had. 

The action relates to a 2013 High Court decision to relocate the Waikiwi Tavern in Invercargill. 

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The tavern wanted to move two properties down the road, meaning its new location would be deemed a new venue under its licence to operate class 4 gaming machines.  

Under the Gambling Act new venues can only apply to operate a maximum of nine machines, while older venues with exisiting licences can operate up to 18. 

The court decided the relocation did not constitute a change in venue because the move was minor, the name, management and ownership of the tavern would remain the same and patrons and the public of Invercargill would regard it as being the same venue.  

The tavern moved down the road and was able to keep all of its machines.  

Four months after that decision the Gambling Act was amended to give local councils the ability to develop their own relocation policies, including whether they would allow these minor relocations to be allowed.  

Between then and 2018 13 venues relocated under the Waikiwi precedent without contest from the Department of Internal Affairs. 

However in 2018 the department changed its mind, saying if a local authority had a relocation policy in place, then Waikiwi relocations were no longer applicable. 

It came to a head in 2019 with the Gambling Commission’s decision agreeing Waikiwi relocations should be allowed – even if a local council’s relocation policy did not allow it.  

“A decision that was made in Invercargill for the Invercargill community has now been misused by being used in other parts of the country.”  – Colin Bridle.

The lobby group Feed Families Not Pokies Aotearoa has since filed legal action to challenge that decision and essentially all Waikiwi relocations since September 2013. 

Spokesperson Colin Bridle said the continued allowance of relocations based on Waikiwi was in breach of the gambling amendments and made a mockery of council sinking lid policies, which many have adopted. 

A sinking lid policy means once a class 4 gambling venue closes, the council will not grant a consent to replace that venue. 

“So what we’re saying is, when a community makes a decision to have a sinking lid policy, that needs to be followed.  

“But what’s happening is that the Waikiwi decisions have now become an exception to the rule and a decision that was made in Invercargill for the Invercargill community, has now been misused by being used in other parts of the country.” 

The group has secured legal support via Te Ara Ture, a legal “broker” which puts people in need of assistance in touch with lawyers able to do pro bono work.  

Te Ara Ture director Darryn Aitchison said the case “ticked a lot of boxes”. 

“We’re funded through the Ministry of Justice and we connect to Community Law Centers, so we know through research where the unmet legal needs are in the community.  

“So when we did the analysis and looked at the harm caused by pokie machines, and who are the communities that tend to experience the harm. That was a pretty clear match for us in terms of what we’re trying to achieve as an organisation.” 

He said the court action would also seek to resolve a constitutional issue, which was something lawyers were generally keen to tease out. 

“Because essentially this case is one where the law was being interpreted in one way. Parliament changed the law to stop it being interpreted in one way and yet it continued to be interpreted in that first way.  

“So there’s a question about what’s happening here.” 

Feed Families Not Pokies Aotearoa also met the low-income requirement.

Papers to have the Declaratory Judgment heard in the High Court in Wellington were filed late last week. 

 There are about 14,500 pokie machines across New Zealand across just over 1000 venues.  

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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