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By Sinclaire Solomon

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 30, 2002 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Papua New Guineans and Papua New Guinea residents continue to pour millions of kina into gambling.

This is despite the economic slump and mounting opposition, especially aimed at ridding society of poker machines, better known as "pokies."

At least K50 million (US$ 12,615,000) a month is spent on poker machines, according to the latest figures available from the National Gaming Control Board.

And more than half of this amount is gambled away in the National Capital District.

Figures are not available for the other popular forms of gambling -- horseracing, and the latest craze, the horse racing machine.

The Gaming Board figures show a big winner from the "pokies" is the tax collector, the Internal Revenue Commission. It takes 60 percent of the revenue grossed by the operators of the poker machines.

The need to continue with "pokies" as a government revenue earner was a sticking point for the previous Sir Mekere Morauta-led government.

It will also be one for the Sir Michael Somare-led government as it tries to find money to provide services as it works to rebuild the economy

Sir Mekere, as prime minister, first bowed to pressure from churches and women's lobby groups to abolish this form of gambling. He set up an inquiry, which made various recommendations but fell short of recommending total abolishment.

Instead, the Morauta government amended the legislation to exempt leaders from prosecution for alleged misuse of Gaming Board funds.

The current government is vowing to make further amendments, or repealing the amended law, in the next session of Parliament. This is so that all leaders implicated are investigated and, where possible, prosecuted.

According to the figures, biggest spenders are to be found in the National Capital District, probably because the city has more site operators than other provinces.

One operator reported to the Gaming Board that in April this year, gamblers spent a total of K32,133,087 at its machines located at some 40 sites throughout the country.

[NOTE: K 1 = US$ 0.2523 on September 30, 2002]

Port Moresby residents accounted for K20,270,559 of this amount.

The operator says it paid out K27,462,327.90 to players, while its gross revenue was K4,670,759.10. The Inland Revenue took K2,802,455.46 for the government coffers.

Another operator reported that in April, its sites turned over K12,703,430, paid out K11,040,719.51, grossed K1,662,710,49 and gave K997,626.29 to the Internal Revenue Commission.

Again, Port Moresby gamblers spent the most -- K5.6 million followed by Western Highlands province (K3 million) and Eastern Highlands (K1.8 million).

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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