$60M to Fight Problem Gambling

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“Currently about 5 percent of New Zealand’s population experiences some level of individual gambling harm, and one in five New Zealanders will be affected by their own or someone else’s gambling during their lifetime.”

The words of the Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa expose a harsh truth. Problem gambling is becoming an epidemic having a disproportionately gambling harm impact over the Māori, Pacific and Asian communities.

This obviously makes gambling a source for heated debates and the presence of some groups arguing that gambling should be barred. Unfortunately, a ban over gambling will produce the same results as turning alcohol, or prostitution illegal. 

People are willing to do whatever it takes to have their fix, and inside vulnerable communities with no regulation, this will end increasing crime, corruption, family violence, child neglecting and poverty.


The Strict Government Move

To confront this situation, the Government has announced a $60 million package to fight problem gambling, with a focus on helping Pacific and Asian communities. The spending will take place over three years, with $5 million of new spending dedicated to piloting new services, improving “equities”, and mitigating gambling harm.

Funding for this initiative will come from a levy paid by non-casino gaming machine operators, casinos, the New Zealand Racing Board and New Zealand Lotteries Commission.

The budget plan will have the following scheme: $500,000 to pilot residential care, and $700,000 to pilot peer support, $2.3m for new intervention services for communities, and $1.5m for technology such as online support and machine-related monitoring.

While the exact make-up of these new intervention services is yet to be determined after their development, the Ministry of Health strategy document states that they could be used to fund a database with facial-recognition capabilities, or develop online support tools “to monitor and manage or limit player exposure to gambling activities at the best new casino sites for New Zealanders and all reputable brands on the market”.

Additionally, the implementation of pilot programs like Residential care of severely addicted gamblers are treated the same way problem drinkers or drug addicts; and Peer-support involves people who have recovered from gambling addiction. This will create a snowball effect where the recovery rate will be increasingly higher thanks to the compound effect of these programs.

To consolidate the effectiveness of this 60M plan, the ministry will work with providers to develop and pilot a clinically robust model of care, based on intensive treatment for people experiencing severe gambling harm, but likely allowing for support for co-existing issues in addition.

What Gambling Games Bring Problems?

Gambling machines (also known as pokies) are highlighted as one of the main culprits in the problem gambling issue. There are five times more pokies in poorer communities’ areas (where unfortunately the majority of ethnic communities thrive) than in the more affluent. At least 50% of all pokies are located in these areas and even some locations are funded solely by these machines. 

Since 2003, the number of pokies in non-casino outlets has dropped from 25,221 to 15,420 – however, spending has increased in recent years, from a historic low of $806 million in 2013/14 to $895 million in the last financial year. With all this evidence is undeniable that regardless of their economic position, depressed settlements are a more profitable target.

People in these communities can’t afford to lose their money, and in order to create a positive impact over vulnerable groups, it needs the complete cooperation from the pokies operators and distributors in the lower-income zones. 

Tackling the problem from its root can be challenging, but operators must understand that having compulsive gamblers as regulars, is like killing the golden egg goose. The ministry has made its bet and once the gambling industry matches it, it will definitely be a win-win for everyone.

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