Problem gambling

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
It almost slipped beneath the radar but there was a significant announcement from the Department of Internal Affairs last week.

The department's director of gambling revealed it had charged a manager of a gambling venue - neither the name nor the location of which was stated - for allegedly failing to identify a problem gambler, and that was a first for New Zealand.

How this case plays out may have serious ramifications for the gambling industry and those who have scrutinised it since the Gambling Act was made law in 2003.

There has, of course, been plenty of noise emanating from the gambling sector, well before this case was made public, about the supposed unfairness of risking prosecution for failing to identify problem gamblers.

Some say that is simply too hard to police, that one person's problem gambler is another person's free-spirited patron. Others have appeared to suggest the gambling industry has been unfairly painted as a den of iniquity, that legal forms of gambling are effectively harmless entertainment and do more good, in the form of funds being poured back into the community, than bad.

But this does not feel like a time when we should be interested in hearing the gambling sector crying foul about its rough treatment.

This feels like a point where we should raise our eyebrows at the fact it has been 16 years since our gambling legislation was put in place and only now do we have a manager facing prosecution.

There have been no problem gamblers allowed to gamble at any of the 1140 class 4 gambling venues in New Zealand during that period? Really?

Most would accept and understand that identifying problem gamblers can be a difficult process, and that it is not as easy for that to be policed as, say, it is to ensure people buying alcohol are aged 18.

But there are clear guidelines around this, and surely it is incumbent on gambling managers to know their harm minimisation policies inside and out.

As an example, the Southern Trust - formed in Dunedin 21 years ago - spells out policies that its venue managers are required to use to identify ``actual or potential'' problem gamblers. Behavioural indicators could include gambling most days, unsocial behaviour, investing large wins straight back into a poker machine, signs of unusual intensity or depression, and attempts to borrow money.

These policies exist for a reason. Problem gambling can be devastating for the physical, emotional and financial health of a person, and gambling venue managers have an explicit duty of care to help those who have lost the ability to help themselves.

New Zealanders love a flutter - they lost $2.3billion gambling in the 2016-17 financial year, and 75% of adults take part in at least one form of gambling annually - but some need guidance to avoid slipping into crisis.


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