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Gambling Impact Seminar - Minister Speech

Gambling Impact Seminar
Lakelands Motel Complex Taupo
Friday 17 March 2000 10.30am
Address by Hon Mark Burton, Minister of Internal Affairs


I would like to thank the Gambling Studies Institute and the Compulsive Gambling Society for the invitation to provide the keynote address to this forum. It is of course a particular pleasure for me because Taupo is my electorate. So as well as addressing you I would also like to welcome you all to Taupo and especially to welcome your next speaker, Hon Nick Xenophon from Australia.

I understand that the Gambling Studies Institute was established fairly recently to facilitate further research on problem gambling issues. I welcome this new development. Fresh information, objective analysis and informed debate in this rapidly evolving area will always be useful – indeed essential.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of the Compulsive Gambling Society. I am aware that the Society has done much over the past decade to bring to the attention of all New Zealanders the fact that some people do have severe problems with gambling, and that both preventative and remedial measures are required.

The Society has of course also been prominent in the provision of assistance to the increasing numbers of people seeking help for problems with gambling - to the extent that it is now one of the two principal providers of problem gambling counselling services in New Zealand.

I would like to talk today about gaming issues generally and the New Zealand Gaming Survey in particular.

It hasn’t taken me long to realise that there are some major issues presently confronting the gaming sector in New Zealand. In the time since I was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs I have met with a wide range of people about gaming representing interests as diverse as casinos, problem gambling services, gaming machine operators, Chartered Clubs, hotels and, of course, the Department of Internal Affairs. Whilst all those people, understandably, have concerns relating to their interests, they have all also talked about the present unsatisfactory legislative and administrative situation regarding gaming in all its forms.

I am mindful that many people have strong views about gaming and gambling. Similarly I am also aware that there are strong views held by some people on the morality or desirability of some types of gaming. People who are tolerant of Lotto may not tolerate gaming machines; people who enjoy racing might not approve of casinos and so on.

My job as Minister is to ensure that these various interests and values are heard as part of any decision making process. I need to ensure a balanced consultation process to policy development and legislative reform in this area.

I am also very clear, however, that we have a legislative situation that does not make sense. And it does not make sense because the opportunity to debate and to discuss the issues have, until recently, been limited.

A few examples:
 There is nothing is in place to help us manage electronic/Internet gambling.
 We have a situation where casinos are the only bodies with the legal authority to profit from gambling so controls seem to be most stringent on community “not-for-profit” organisations.
 Legislation to enable education about gambling and to assist problem gamblers is almost non-existent and therefore these areas are poorly resourced.
 The whole management of gambling and gaming in New Zealand has become increasingly confused and complex.

And of course, many of you will be aware that recently the Department has allowed a TAB in Palmerston North to install gaming machines on a three month trial. That was a decision that was made because it had to be. Neither the Department nor I had the power to prevent it from happening. To have stopped the trial from taking place would have, inevitably, resulted in an expensive judicial review which I am advised we would have almost certainly lost.

After three months in this job it is clear to me, and I should say that this is a personal view- the Government has yet to make a decision on this - that we must have a full gaming and gambling review. A review must build on the work previously carried out and it must involve all of the interested parties.

At this stage I cannot be definite about the time frame for this, but I am keen to make early progress. I would note that the Government has directed that the Gaming Law Reform Bill that was carried over from the last Parliament’s legislative programme, should be referred back to the Select Committee. This is an opportunity to allow some further discussion and debate.

The Gaming Law Reform Bill was introduced in December 1998. It was introduced to address pressing problems facing the casino and gaming machine industries and also as a vehicle to manage a range of community concerns.

Whilst the Bill is not the much requested gaming review, it does address some of the issues of concern, particularly in the area of casino licensing and the need for a gaming machine regulation which is clear and robust.

It needs further work, however. For this reason, Parliament supported my recommendation to refer it back to the Select Committee for further consideration. This will give the 30 new Members of Parliament as well as the new Government the opportunity to discuss and review some of the proposed legislative changes. This is, I believe, particularly important for a Bill dealing with what is traditionally an area for conscience voting. The Select Committee process is an ideal one for discussing controversial topics as it allows for submissions and discussions to achieve, at best a consensus decision, and certainly, I hope, a clear set of recommendations or options for the Parliament to work through.

Some of those controversial topics might include:
 Have we got the casino licensing provisions right?
 Are there better ways of ensuring gaming machine funds are used for community purposes, and not misappropriated?
 What controls could be put in place to ensure the protection of people who cannot control their gambling compulsion?

The select committee has been tasked with reporting back to the House by 4 July.

I would like to assure everyone here that I am taking on board the input I have received to date concerning the need for change in the sector. Much of that input seems to point to the fact that the sector has suffered in the past from hasty and, particularly, ad hoc change. Accordingly, I am keen to develop further my understanding of the issues before committing myself and the government to a particular course of action.

Having said that, undoubtedly the results of the New Zealand Gaming Survey will be a valuable source of information upon which to base future directions in the gaming sector.

The background to the decision to commence the New Zealand Gaming Survey was the very real need to get more information on the effects of the expansion of gambling activities in New Zealand.

In particular, there was a need for authoritative information on the prevalence of problem gambling.

A consortium led by Professor Max Abbott and Dr Rachel Volberg is conducting the survey. Other members of the consortium include Statistics New Zealand, The National Research Bureau, and Taylor Baines and Associates.

I referred earlier to the sterling work of the Compulsive Gambling Society. Let me now pay a tribute to Max Abbott. Professor Abbott has been utterly committed to problem gambling research for at least a decade. Along with his colleague, Dr Rachel Volberg, he is recognised as one of the world’s leading experts in this field. I know that he has applied all that experience and expertise to his leadership of the suite of projects that comprise the New Zealand Gaming Survey.

The survey will deliver a series of reports throughout this year. These reports will cover the following areas:

 A review of international literature on gambling participation and prevalence

 A two stage national prevalence study: stage 1 asking over 6000 New Zealanders by telephone about their gambling habits, stage 2 involving in-depth, face-to-face interviews with approximately 300 of those who participated in stage 1.

 A report outlining the results of fresh interviews conducted with people who participated in phase 2 of an earlier national survey conducted in 1991/1992.

 Two studies of the gambling behaviour of recently incarcerated prisoners.

 And finally, a report that will provide a synthesis of the survey’s major findings.

I am sure that you will agree with me that this is a comprehensive and innovative programme of research.

As you are aware, two of the reports I have just mentioned are to be released today:

 The review of international literature on gambling participation and prevalence, and

 The report outlining the results of fresh interviews with people who participated in the 1991/1992 survey.

I am aware that Professor Abbott will be talking to you later about these two reports and I promised that I wouldn’t steal his thunder - he has waited a long time for the opportunity to start discussing the fruits of his labour. However, I have had a chance to preview the first two reports so I would like to comment briefly on my reaction to them and leave discussion of the results to Professor Abbott.

The review of international literature provides a critical review of local and international research relating to:

 Community participation in, and attitudes to, different types of gambling; and

 Problem and pathological gambling.

The report will be a valuable source of information on the published and unpublished literature relating to gambling and problem gambling for the growing numbers of people interested in the subject.

The second report, outlining the results of the fresh interviews with people who participated in the 1991/1992 survey and is the first of its type in the world to examine a community sample of regular gamblers and problem gamblers over time. I understand that Professor Abbott went to substantial lengths to keep in contact with the survey group at his own expense over much of the seven year period - an effort for which I think he should be commended.

The report is based on follow-up interviews conducted in 1998 with 143 of the 217 people who participated in phase 2 of New Zealand’s first national problem gambling prevalence survey in 1991.

The last 7 years have seen a substantial growth in what could be called "gaming opportunities" in New Zealand. The report focuses upon the experiences of 4 distinct groups of people, within the 143 interviewed, during this period. Each group had varying levels of gambling involvement in 1991, and the report provides a valuable insight into how the last 7 years have impacted upon the gambling involvement of the people in the study.

Professor Abbott will be going through the results of the 1991 follow-up study in detail later. However, I would like to make a number of preliminary comments. (I say “preliminary” advisedly because the government has not had the opportunity to analyse the results as yet.)

Some of the findings Professor Abbott will discuss may be unexpected and may well generate debate and will perhaps, in time, lead to some reassessment in a number of areas.

I am aware that the results reported are from a relatively small group of people. In addition not all of the people originally interviewed in 1991 could be contacted again in 1998, and by 1998 all participants were aged 25 years or older. Consequently caution must be exercised in generalising the findings of the study to all problem and pathological gamblers and frequent non-problem gamblers in the population.

However I believe that the results of the survey are a very useful contribution, especially when considered along side other information currently available such as the data generated by gambling counselling services and reported by the committee on problem gambling management.

It is also important to realise that the reports released today are only the first two out of a total of seven reports. Because they are the front end I hope that they will be subject to objective and rational critique within the context of the overall suite of seven reports.

Problem gambling is a very complex issue. In order to get a complete picture we need to analyse and synthesise all the available information before coming to hard and fast conclusions on the extent and nature of problem gambling in New Zealand.

To summarise, I am confident that the reports from the New Zealand Gaming Survey will shed new light on the gambling behaviour of New Zealanders. In particular, the results will provide robust information on the impact of the growth in gambling opportunities since the last national survey was conducted in 1991/1992.

I am also sure that the reports will provide a fertile source of debate for many years to come. That debate, provided it is constructive, can only serve to advance our knowledge in this important area of social and economic policy.

I’ve appreciated this opportunity to open the seminar and I regret that I was not able to stay longer. However, officials from my department will be here and are able to report back to me. My senior adviser, Jennie Darby, will also be here for the day and you may wish to discuss any issues and concerns with her. Please accept my best wishes for a productive day.

Thank you.

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