Concerns problem gambling could rise under Covid-19 climate

The financial hardship brought on by the Covid-19 restrictions and economic downturn is expected...
The financial hardship brought on by the Covid-19 restrictions and economic downturn is expected to cause a spike in problem gambling. Photo: Getty Images
The number of people on the job seeker benefit across Canterbury rose by 4.8 per cent last month compared to the same period last year.

The situation is likely to worsen with the city’s economic development agency ChristchurchNZ forecasting up to 36,500 jobs will be lost across the region over the next 12 months.

A recent survey from the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce showed 63 per cent out of 470 businesses across the region were experiencing “significant financial impacts” from Covid-19. The survey also showed 30 per cent of businesses believed their staffing numbers would have to be reduced by more than 25 per cent in order to survive.

Ekant Veer.
Ekant Veer.
Canterbury University professor of marketing Dr Ekant Veer, who closely studies social change and consumption patterns, said research showed there was a link between problem gambling and financial hardship.

“We know that people who are facing financial hardship in general, not necessarily who are unemployed, are more likely to gamble.

"As we see a society in where everyone’s incomes are taking a hit we may see gambling rise as a result of that,” he said.

Statistics show gambling in New Zealand has been on a steady incline for the last nine years.

In 2011 New Zealanders spent $2 billion on gambling. Last year it had increased to $2.4 billion.

The most popular form of gambling last year was gaming machines outside of casinos at $924 million, which was followed by the $616 million spent inside of casinos.

Salvation Army Oasis Centre for Problem Gambling team leader Graham Payne expected to see a spike in gambling as restrictions eased, with a particular concern over pokie machines within pubs and bars.

He has helped problem gamblers with their addictions since 1992.

“When people who have got gambling issues haven’t done it for a while there is going to be that catch-up phase, that is how they operate, ‘I haven’t done it for a while I need to catch up I have saved all this money'. I feel that issues could really increase over the first three to six months with the pubs reopening,” he said.

Payne had also witnessed an increase in online gambling over the lockdown period and expected it to continue even as other forms of gambling are made available.

He said early signs of gambling becoming an addiction were that you were spending more time and money gambling than intended, starting to lie about your behaviour, constantly thinking about gambling, chasing your losses, isolating yourself from loved ones and blaming others for your problems.

Andrée Froude.
Andrée Froude.
Problem Gambling Foundation spokeswoman Andrée Froude echoed Payne’s concerns around pokie machines.

“Pokies are the most harmful form of gambling in New Zealand. The majority of people that seek help for a gambling problem do so because of pokie machines,” she said.

The foundation is currently urging the Government to cut back the country’s pokie machines in coalition with The Salvation Army and Māori health agency Hapai te Hauora.

Froude said the main reason behind this was to reduce the reliance community groups have on grants from pokie trusts, but also to reduce gambling-related harm across the country.


A letter from the coalition to Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin said the Government could easily replace the $242 million worth of pokie grants using ts own funds, and argued the shutdown of pubs and pokie machines due to the pandemic presented a “golden opportunity” for an overhaul of the system.

The Salvation Army Oasis Support
People with an addiction and those being affected by it. Services are free and confidential.
Phone: 03 365 9659
or 0800 53 00 00

Help is free and confidential to anyone affected by gambling harm.
Phone: 0800 664 262
Trained counsellors are also available on live chat from 8:30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday at: