18 Nov 2022

Enforcement will be key as casino rules tightened - support service

7:54 pm on 18 November 2022
The croupier holds poker cards in his hands at a table in a casino.

A support service for problem gamblers says it's a habit that destroys relationships and causes mental health problems for her clients. Photo: 123RF

The government has announced new rules aimed at reducing harm for gamblers.

From next year casinos and venues with pokie machines will be on a tighter leash with higher standards expected and harsher penalties, with a full review of the Gambling Act to follow.

The new regulations include rules for where casinos could put their machines, mandatory training for staff, and new punishments for venues that don't comply.

Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti hoped the regulations would show New Zealand was taking a firm stance against gambling.

"By shining a light on this, we also show what is not acceptable for people in this country," she said. "The majority of people in this country don't want to see gambling harms existing for our fellow citizens."

Director Pesio Ah-Honi of Mapu Maia, a gambling support service for the Pasifika community, said gambling had been destructive for her clients. "We're seeing relationships break up, losing possessions," she said. "And on the severe end: suicide, mental health [problems], family violence, and crime."

Ah-Honi was particularly excited about the new rules for staff. She said teaching staff to identify problem gamblers would have a huge impact.

"Most patrons are known by the staff," she said. "They go to the same bar, they play the same machine, so there's already a relationship there that I believe can be levied in trying to help people."

The true extent of gambling harm in South Waikato was revealed earlier this year with $8 million lost on pokies between 2020 and 2021.

The new rules requiring staff to identify problem gamblers will be helpful, a support service says. Photo: Supplied / Problem Gambling Foundation

Problem Gambling Foundation spokesperson Andree Froude said the regulations were a promising first step, but she expected more to come as the government reviewed the Gambling Act.

"We always knew that this wasn't going to be a silver bullet," she said. "It raises the bar and it's a step in the right direction, but we're really keen to see what will come out of the review."

She said New Zealand's laws desperately needed to catch up with the gambling industry. "Sometimes it feels like we're always on the back foot," she said. "It changes and develops all the time, look at what's happening with online gambling."

Ah-Honi agreed. She said the Gambling Act was woefully outdated. "It was implemented in 2003, so it's high time," she said. "We've got online gambling and online gaming, we don't think it's [the act] fit for purpose anymore."

She said the success of the new regulations would hinge on the government's ability to enforce them. She was encouraged by the inclusion of new infringement offences, which make it easier to penalise casinos that don't comply.

"All these new measures need to have the right enforcement," she said. "Because if it's not enforced for non-performers, it's just going to be worthless."

She said there was more to be done, and her organisation would keep pushing for more change. "We're going to advocate for more," she said. "Minister Tinetti said it could lead to having no pokie machines in the community and I think that would be great."

Tinetti said the new regulations would come into force by May 2023.

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