22 Sep 2014

Loss of gambling group 'backward step'

8:08 pm on 22 September 2014

An expert witness for the Problem Gambling Foundation says its loss would be a significant step backwards for the sector.

The foundation lost a government contract for the lion's share (70 percent) of its services in March this year when the Ministry of Health awarded it to the Salvation Army following a tender process.

The foundation is challenging the decision and a three-hearing began at the High Court in Auckland today.

Peter Adams, a gambling researcher at the University of Auckland, says the loss of of the foundation would be a significant step backwards for the sector.

The testimony was read out to the court by the foundation's lawyer, Mai Chen.

Dr Adams said he was concerned that initiatives pioneered by the foundation would be lost. He said it was difficult to imagine any other organisation having the same level of staffing and resources to fight problem gambling in New Zealand.

In her opening address, Mai Chen said the decision-making process that cut most of the foundation's funding lacked integrity and logic and the decision should be looked at again.

Ms Chen said two members of the decision-making panel had conflicts of interest, which were not handled adequately.

One of them had a family member involved in a competing organisation, she told the court, and this led to problems with the panel's scoring of the organisations applying for funding. Further mistakes were then made when they were typed out.

Ms Chen said the ministry failed to consider or make any reference to how the public would be affected when it cut funding.

The Problem Gambling Foundation has built relationships in many communities to minimise gambling harm, she said, and it would take years for another service to do the same.