The fact that more problem gamblers are seeking for help means that services have improved, officials say.
While recent gambling news have revealed that 7,180 people sought help for problem gambling in the first six months of 2014, officials have put a positive spin on it, claiming that this is not necessarily bad news.
Some might think this means that the number of gambling addicts in New Zealand has gone up, but the Ministry of Health has chosen to look on the bright side. This shows that services have improved and it has become easier for people in need to access them, officials say.
The figure released by the Ministry of Health excludes “brief interventions”, which were less serious. But even so, it has gone up from 6,931 last year. Five years ago, there were only 6,367 gambling addicts in the ministry’s database.
In New Zealand, gambling is a huge part of the local culture. Locals spend more than $2 billion a year on casino games, sports betting and the few online lottery or betting sites regulated under New Zealand gambling laws. With the activity being so widespread, more and more people seem to be having a problem controlling their habit, and official reports confirm that.
Moreover, the latest figures reveal a steep increase in the number of Pasifika people seeking help. Five years ago, there were 434 problem gamblers of this ethnicity, representing 7.2% of the total. By June this year, that number has increased to 1,655 or 23% of the total. On the other hand, the proportion of Maori problem gamblers has remained the same, but is still high, representing about 30% of the total.
According to Graeme Ramsey, chief executive of the Problem Gambling Foundation, research suggested only about 15% of players with gambling problems have turned to organizations like his own to look for help. In his opinion, the incidence of gambling is fairly static.
Instead, the increase in the number of people seeking for help is a consequence of the fact that the service is “definitely getting better at addressing the need in specific vulnerable communities, particularly Maori and Pasifika.”
No cause for concern
Cathy O’Malley, Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Health, noticed another few factors which may have contributed to the growing number of problem gamblers in New Zealand.
These include the passage of Maori Party Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell’s Gambling Harm Minimization Bill, the pokies-for-convention center deal between the Government and SkyCity, as well as the media coverage of the ministry’s plan to slash the Problem Gambling Foundation’s funding.
According to her, officials should be concerned about the growing number of people who seek help in controlling their gambling habits, but if the phenomenon was happening while their numbers was not changing significantly it “may be seen as a positive step”.
The report released by the Ministry of Health only takes into account those players with more severe gambling problems, excluding a number of others who only needed brief interventions.
The ministry’s decision to cut funding of the Problem Gambling Foundation was challenged in court, after the organization said the selection process was unfair.
Until recently, the Government covered 70% of the organization’s funds, but then it decided to take that source of income away and offer the money to the Salvation Army instead. The foundation’s lawyer argued that two members of the decision-making panel had conflicts of interest, which is why she said that the whole process lacked integrity. A High Court decision is expected within the next month or two.
According to Ramsey, the ministry’s plan would mean the end of the Mapu Maia programme started by the foundation, which focuses on offering assistance to the Pasifika community. In other words, the organization was trying to reach out exactly to the people who needed help the most.
“The experience we have built up in working with communities is critical and is in danger of being lost and it will take other providers time to pick that up because we are the biggest provider by a significant distance and have been doing it longer than anyone else,” Ramsey said.
Clearly, with a growing number of problem gamblers New Zealand needs to keep focusing on offering assistance to those who need it.