Problem gambling more harmful than drug use, research shows

With problem gambling firmly in the spotlight in Asia as Japan prepares its casino legislation, new research from New Zealand claims the harm from gambling is almost double that of drug use, bipolar affective disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia combined.

The research was carried out for the New Zealand Ministry of Health by Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and Central Queensland University (CQU) and claims to be a first in NZ and only the second in the world to measure the aggregate “burden of harm” attributed to problem gambling.

It claims gambling creates 3 times more harm than drug use, 2.5 times that of diabetes and 2.1 times that of osteoarthritis. However, it does fall short of harm from anxiety and depression and hazardous drinking behaviour. 

The research uses a standard public health methodology endorsed by the World Health Organization to compare gambling to other well-researched health issues.

“The harm associated with gambling is substantially more than we originally thought,” says Professor Max Abbott, Director of the AUT Gambling and Addictions Research Centre. “These findings are unexpected and will have a huge impact internationally.” 

“While serious problem gamblers and people close to them experience the greatest harm, the study shows that many other people are harmed by gambling. In fact, low-risk gamblers are associated with the greatest proportion of New Zealand’s gambling-related harm.”

“This means that a significant amount of gambling-related harm in the community arises from people who don’t meet the psychiatric definition for gambling disorder. The reason for this is that people with lower risk and problem levels greatly outnumber those at the severe end of the spectrum.”

SkyCity chair makes way for new blood 

SkyCity Entertainment Group chairman Chris Moller will retire from the board, effective December 31, 2017. He was first appointed a director of SkyCity in December 2008, and was voted in as chairman in 2016. “By the time I retire, I will have been a director of the company for 9 years and chairman for 5 years and I consider this to be an appropriate time in the case of SKYCITY to invite the board to refresh its leadership,” he said. Taking his place will be Rob Campbell, who has been invited to become the chairman-elect until he takes over on January 1, 2018.

SkyCity debuts Shanghai-themed restaurant

New Zealand’s dominant casino operator has opened a new Shanghai-themed restaurant at its Federal Street dining precinct, giving a nod to the increasing importance of the China market to revenue. Huami is inspired by Shanghai during the French Concession period. “SkyCity saw an opportunity for a premium yet authentic Chinese dining experience,” group CEO Graeme Stephens said.

Low and moderate-risk gamblers accounted for 80 percent of gambling-related harm; serious problem gamblers the remaining 20 percent. 

The New Zealand government says that gambling venues in the country are generally getting better at helping problem gamblers, but need to do more.

Late last year, The Department conducted a mystery shopper exercise to assess how well venue staff were fulfilling their Gambling Act obligations for preventing and minimizing gambling harm.

Trained researchers, displaying signs of harmful gambling, tested staff responses at 120 pokie bars and clubs and all six casinos across the country.

“We set some high standards for this exercise, expecting staff to demonstrate that they care for their gambling customers,” said New Zealand Internal Affairs’ Director of Gambling Compliance, Gareth Bostock. “Few operators in the class 4 gambling sector met all expectations, but many more met partial expectations. So we are seeing improvements, particularly around how operators want to help venues to care for their customers.

“There were improvements in casinos, but some more is required here too. The three casino companies in New Zealand have put considerable focus on harm minimization practice since 2014 and we have noted a significant change in culture with a stronger focus on minimizing harmful gambling. Bostock noted that casino operator SkyCity did particularly well in this regard. 

“The four SkyCity casinos made significant improvements, not only to systems and processes but also to culture and staff attitude towards helping those who display signs of harmful gambling,” he said. 

Preliminary results from the Ministry of Health’s 2016 Health and Lifestyle survey indicate there is no increase in the overall prevalence of problem gambling from 2014 to 2016. 

The Department said it is using the latest mystery shopper research to target its regulatory activity and help the sector lift performance. 

It will tackle poor performing operators in particular through education and training in partnership with the Health Promotion Agency; inspect venues for harm minimization practices; use sanctions where appropriate.

“Where we identify poor performance we will work with societies on appropriate action,” Mr Bostock said. “The licence for an individual venue will still be open to cancellation.