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Problem gambling - a major public health issue

2 July 2003

Problem gambling - a major public health issue

Problem gambling should be recognised as a health issue that is as serious as alcohol abuse or tobacco addiction, according to a senior lecturer in Auckland University's Department of Community Health.

Lorna Dyall told the Public Health Association conference in Ngaruawahia today that problem gambling affects about half of the Maori population sometime in their lives and almost ten percent of Maori every day. Ms Dyall says programmes and education to address Maori gambling and problem gambling are urgently needed.

Ms Dyall says each problem gambler affects the lives of at least five other people, who are usually family members. Gambling by women is increasing and can cause them to neglect their families, use valuable household income for gambling and commit crimes, she says. More Maori women than men seek help but it is estimated at least a third of Maori problem gamblers do not seek counselling help, according to Dr Dyall.

Within the Maori population, there are particular groups who are at risk, including Maori youth, Maori women, older Maori, Maori with mental illnesses and Maori with other addiction problems, Ms Dyall says.

"Although gambling in New Zealand is promoted by the government as a community benefit, it creates real social costs such as increased crime, imprisonment, break up of families, loss of economic resources, lower health status and distortion of individual or community values."

Ms Dyall points to a complex relationship between problem gambling, alcohol abuse, mental ill health and criminal offending.

Ms Dyall says Maori and the government need to work together in partnership so that gambling creates minimal harm. Proposed new gambling legislation should include specific provision for Maori participation at all levels of decision making. Ms Dyall says the Responsible Gambling Bill must also recognise Treaty of Waitangi obligations and she is calling on Maori MPs to address the issue of Maori gambling during the third reading of the bill.

Maori should not be dependent on gambling funding for essential services, development, community and cultural activities, according to Ms Dyall. She is also calling for more research specifically looking at Maori problem gambling, which she describes as an invisible public health issue.


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