For most people, gambling will mean a flutter on the Grand National or buying a few National Lottery tickets each year, but for an unfortunate minority of problem gamblers the effects can be harrowing. As gambling laws have been relaxed across the world in recent years, each country has taken a different approach to protect problem gamblers from their temptations, and New Zealand offers some of the most inventive options.
Despite the number of people gambling in the island nation falling in recent years, the latest national gambling study shows gambling continues to impact particularly heavily on the indigenous Maori and Pacific people. These communities have historically lived in economically deprived areas, where gambling machines are five times more common than in other areas, and activists argue it is the prevalence of these machines that pushes people to make bad decisions.
Under the 2003 Gambling Act, New Zealand casinos are legal with six casinos operating in five cities, and the public are also able to gamble on machines in pubs and hotels across the country. These licensed establishments are tightly regulated and operators are supposed to spot problem gamblers and help them seek recovery, but in order to make sure casinos are upholding their responsibilities, authorities have begun using “mystery shoppers” to test out responses on the front line.
In the most recent mystery shopper survey, each of the casinos were found to have a “good standard of host responsibility and culture”, but the picture was less positive at pubs and hotels where only 41% of venues met expectations. It is these venues that are found the in the deprived areas, and the study demonstrates the need for significant improvements.
New Zealand is one of a number of countries that has taken on board the risks associated with gambling and made efforts to address the issues faced by addicts. In the UK for example, GambleAware has commissioned a new NHS treatment service for problem gamblers worth over £1m per year. Marc Etches, CEO of GambleAware said:
“Problem gambling is an issue which affects millions of people across Britain each day. We’re working hard to raise awareness of the issue and to help people see the true cost of gambling addiction. GambleAware is keen to put problem gambling on the public health agenda, as it’s no different to any other kind of addiction. It’s our job to raise awareness of the issue and to let people know that there is help available. We fund treatment centres across the UK and urge anyone who thinks they or a loved one has a problem to get in touch, or call our national gambling helpline for free, confidential advice”.
However, this commitment to address problem gambling is not universal. In the US, despite significant growth in the American casino and gambling industry following the decision by a number of states to legalise the practice, studies into such issues remain sparse. A number of independent groups have emerged to help those suffering from the problem, but the US lacks a national programme to tackle the issue from a health or other perspective.