6 Aug 2018

Scratchies linked to high relapse rates of gambling addiction

From Nine To Noon, 9:24 am on 6 August 2018

Instant Kiwi and online gambling games are contributing to an increase in gambling harm in New Zealand, researchers say. 

Generic gambling

Generic gambling Photo: bondvit/123RF

The National Gambling study is a comprehensive longitudinal study that investigates the causes and harms of gambling. 

The research, conducted by Auckland University of Technology and funded by the Ministry of Health, is one of only two gambling studies in the world that has followed and assessed a large national sample over time. 

The researchers found that gambling-related harm increased, despite participation rates dropping. 

Gambling and Addictions Research Centre director Max Abbott said the research was important for policy and prevention.

"We're capturing the onset of problems and are able to look at transitions over time." 

Gambling participation dropped during the 1990s then plateaued, he said, but a population increase, relapsing gamblers and concentration of high-risk groups exposed to gambling machines had contributed to an increase in gambling-related harms. 

He said games like Instant Kiwi, Electronic Gaming Machines such as pokies and TABs could cause gambling relapses, especially within deprived communities.

"We found that Instant Kiwi and overseas internet gambling are all significantly involved in relapse. They weren't so strongly implicated in the development of problems in the first place."

About two-thirds of people who reported having developed a gambling problem had had one in the past. 

"What's happened is that we have very high-risk groups of people living in areas where there is a heavy concentration of gaming machines."

Mr Abbott said electronic machines should be removed from clubs and pubs.

"I don't say that lightly," he said.

The Department of Internal Affairs had carried out mystery shopping exercises to see how well the venues were carrying out their legal responsibility for harm-reduction, he said. 

"For the most part, they aren't doing it."

The amount of gambling-related harm was also higher than drug misuse across all forms other than alcohol, Mr Abbott said. 

"We're talking about something that is very, very significant."

Depression was also contributing to developing problems, while inequality was the major factor underpinning health issues, he said.

The electronic machines generate revenue for various community groups and associations, he said.

"The very groups, including church groups, that would ordinarily be the critic and conscience that would raise concerns about these sort of issues are also addicted to them," Mr Abbott said. 

There needs to be an alternative fund set up to compensate community groups that benefit from lottery funds, he said.