Problem's effects widely felt

Statistics reveal more than 40 people  this year have been excluded from Queenstown's two casinos...
Statistics reveal more than 40 people this year have been excluded from Queenstown's two casinos. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Today is Gamblefree day. Queenstown reporter Christina McDonald speaks with someone who has a gambling problem and to others in the resort who pick up the shattered lives of those unable to control their addiction.

Looking back, a Queenstown man said he could see his problem gambling began when "on more than one occasion I'd spend my weekly wage in one night at the casino or on the pokies".

The man, who asked not to be named, said he started gambling in the latter years of university.

"I never really had enough money then for it to be a problem, but after uni I moved to Australia where it is hard to step out the door without seeing a pokie sign somewhere."

Spending his weekly wages at the casino did not seem out of place as the crowd he was around did the same and he had no children to provide for.

'Not having any dependants then I didn't see any ill effect except the fact that I would have a tight week moneywise here and there."

He returned to New Zealand and then went to London, where it is not possible to gamble without signing up to a club.

When he moved back to Queenstown, he would find himself at the blackjack tables at the end of a night out.

"There was a combination of factors that led me there really, being new to town and not really knowing too many people to go out with, and as well alcohol has always has been a strong factor in my gambling.

"Luckily, I had a wife who continued to tell me it was a problem and, although I brushed it off for a while, she was right.

She asked me to ban myself, which I did for the good of our marriage and my bank account."

By that stage, he had a house and a mortgage to pay.

While those who have been excluded from casinos may return after due course and upon completion of counselling, he said: "I never went to the counselling courses they ask you to do before you can go back because I don't want to be able to go back there."

The multi-venue exclusion programme was started in 2006 by Internal Affairs gambling inspectors in Queenstown and the programme was later extended to Invercargill, Dunedin, Nelson, Hamilton, Rotorua and Tauranga, then Christchurch, Lower Hutt and Auckland.

Statistics obtained by the Otago Daily Times show 43 people this year have been excluded from Queenstown's two casinos, either by themselves or a third party.

Some patrons may appear twice in the numbers.

Since the scheme began in 2006, 272 Central Otago and Southland gamblers have been excluded from Class 4 Venues, which are places with a "pokie" machine.

The statistics do not differentiate which gamblers are continually excluded year to year, so double-ups may exist.

Gaming machines were switched off in a Huntly bar for two days in July this year because a staff member failed to issue a self-exclusion notice to a problem gambler.

The problem gambler had sought to exclude themselves.

Internal Affairs reported the staff member was not adequately trained to follow through with the request.

Suspected problem gamblers in Queenstown are referred to the Salvation Army, which has operated Oasis Centres in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown since the early 2000s.

The centres offer free consultation and interventions for gamblers and those affected by the addiction.

Queenstown Salvation Army corps leader Kenneth Walker said the resort's "close community" made it easier to implement the exclusion scheme and treat problem gamblers.

"It makes really good sense in a place like Queenstown.

"They [gamblers] can do it at one and automatically word gets sent out to the others [casinos]."

Mr Walker said the role of the Oasis Centre was more than just a counselling service and aimed to look at the wider effects of gambling on the community.

"People might come up or phone in and acknowledge that they have a problem with gambling and if they have not gone through the process of excluding themselves, we would aid them with that," Mr Walker said.

Problem Gambling Foundation public health national manager Tony Milne said Gamblefree day was the major awareness-raising day for the issue in New Zealand.

"The impact of problem gambling shouldn't be underestimated," Mr Milne said.

"Each year in New Zealand an estimated 60,000 people with a gambling problem have a direct impact on the lives of 300,000 to 600,000 other people."

It has been estimated $2 billion gambled annually and 100,000 New Zealanders gamble in a way which is seriously harmful.

For every one of those people, five to 10 family or friends are affected.



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