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Community Gambling - Jim Anderton Speech

Second International Conference on Problem Gambling in NZ
"Gambling: Understanding and Minimising Harm"
Carlton Hotel
Auckland

This summit is timely. Only yesterday the Press ran a story that Christchurch is now the poker machine capital of New Zealand. The story quoted local Mayor Garry Moore as saying he is concerned at the social ramifications of this trend.

The same article notes that the Mayor of Hamilton Russ Rimmington wants to ban these machines within one kilometre of residential areas and impose greater costs on the owners of machines.

The issue of gambling and its effects on individuals, families and communities is one which is only now receiving scrutiny.

To many people gambling is not yet an issue. They themselves don't gamble to any great extent and are unaware of the growing and serious results New Zealand society is having to face.

I hope that this conference will help promote both discussion and awareness of these issues.

The background to all of this has been a liberalisation of gambling laws in New Zealand over the last 11 years and a rapid growth in ways that people can gamble.

We have gone from no poker machines just over ten years ago to over 19,000 machines, which as I speak are accessible to people in nearly every small town and suburb.

Last year alone New Zealanders gambled a staggering 8.4 billion dollars, while losing an estimated 1.3 billion dollars.

This loss was up from $695 million in 1995. We are losing twice as much as we did five years ago, mostly from the pockets of low to middle-income earners.

This huge growth in gambling has all gone on gaming machines which were introduced in 1990, and casinos the first of which opened in 1994. In the same period the amount spent on lotteries and racing has remained static.

It is likely that if trends for more pokey machines continue unchecked New Zealand will catch up with Australia - currently the most gambling saturated country in the world.

The social impact information we have paints a bleak picture.

More people are seeking help for problem gambling in New Zealand than ever before.

In 1997 there were less than 3,000 new counselling or telephone helpline clients. In 2000 there were over 5,500.

For each of these I am sure there are many more who don't seek help.

What is of more concern is that people who have a gambling problem face other problems such as alcohol and drug abuse.

People who have a gambling problem can also experience debt problems, negative health effects and domestic crisis.

In the most extreme cases gambling addiction contributes to domestic violence, employment problems, poverty, child neglect, crime and suicide.

In New Zealand there is a clear link between gambling and crime, with one in four prison inmates suffering from a gambling problem.

As Minister for Economic, Industry and Regional Development I have taken an interest in the Australian Productivity Commission’s study on the economic impacts of gambling.

According to the Commission every dollar spent gambling would almost certainly have been spent in another parts of the economy.

By promoting gambling we deprive other businesses of precious revenue while increasing costly social problems.

Using a small Australian town of 80,000 people, Ian Pinge, who is with us today, examined the economic impacts of gaming machines on the town of Bendigo.

He found that gaming machines produced a net loss of output, income and jobs and imposed high levels of social costs. There was a net loss of $11.5 million per annum or the equivalent of 237 full-time jobs.

As the Minister for Economic Development I think one of the significant issues in turning our economic performance around is reversing the feeling of hopelessness and low self-esteem created by nearly 30 years of economic decline, unemployment and lower living standards for far too many New Zealanders.

It is of little surprise to me that problems with marijuana are greatest in communities where there is no work.

In some developing countries lotteries and gambling can be seen as the only hope for many to escape poverty and other problems they face.

I suspect that in New Zealand the decline in economic performance has played a role in the gambling problems we have today.

It may be that many New Zealanders crushed and disempowered by years of poor economic performance have turned their sense of hope and desire for a better life to winning money. Or at least to the emotional escape that gaming machines temporarily provide.

One of the messages I have been giving in my 40 regional visits in the last 18 months has been that we need to capitalise on kiwi innovation and talent to help turn our economy around. Problem gambling is another complication to the essential task of harnessing every ounce of the energy, talent, innovation, and creativity of every New Zealander.

It is self evident that the energy and enthusiasm that many are putting into pokey machines would be better spent starting businesses or getting constructively involved in the social and economic development of our community.

Clearly government has a role in ensuring that gambling is regulated.

As you will be aware the Government has just completed a comprehensive review of gambling in New Zealand.

Decisions on this review are currently before the Cabinet.

There is widespread concern and dissatisfaction with the status quo.

The public generally believe there are too many gambling opportunities and that problem gambling is on the rise.

The gambling industry feels that existing regulations are inconsistent and poorly coordinated.

We will therefore be developing a coordinated and consistent framework for all gambling modes which addresses the concerns of both the community and the gambling industry.

I don’t believe that we have done enough for problem gamblers up until now. Last year $4.2 million was supplied by the industry for problem gambling services. This compares to the $1.3 billion in player losses - a contribution of only one third of a percent of industry profits going to addressing harm.

I can indicate to you today that the Government will be adopting a public health model for problem gambling. This will see the Ministry of Health play a role in the coordination of services in the near future.

As Minister of Consumer Affairs I have been promoting better consumer information on gambling products, as first promoted by my predecessor Phillida Bunkle.

These measures will require operators to display information such as the odds, totals played and lost, and warnings about the dangers of gambling addiction.

I feel confident that such measures will be supported by the Cabinet and will become part of the new regime.

There are other measures that the Government can consider.

As the leader of the Alliance I can tell you the Alliance position would be an immediate cap on the number of gaming machines in the country.

Current licenses allow for another 18,000 machines to be added to the market without community or Government consent. This is a doubling of current numbers and would see us surpassing Australia’s market saturation.

Of equal concern to the Alliance is Internet gambling, which will greatly expand gambling opportunities. The problem of supervising young people and problem gamblers in their own homes poses vast new risks to the community.

The Alliance favours a ban on Internet gambling.

We also believe there are enough casinos in New Zealand and we would put an immediate halt to any more being licensed. I believe there is widespread support within the coalition government for this position.

These are issues which need to be debated more.

I am pleased to have been asked to address this conference.

The issues you will be debating in the next three days are important and need more public comment.

I can assure you of the Government’s support for your deliberations and I wish you well for the coming days and your valuable work in the future.

ends

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