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Address to 5th International Gambling Conference at AUT

Hon Peter Dunne
Associate Minister of Health

19 February 2014

Address to 5th International Gambling Conference, AUT University, Auckland

Tena koutou katoa, good morning and thank you for the invitation to speak today at the opening of the 5th International Gambling Conference.

I would like to begin by welcoming all of you, in particular our international guests and distinguished speakers, some of whom have travelled from around the globe to be here.

In particular I would like to acknowledge Associate Professor Papaarangi Reid from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, Judge Mark G. Farrell, Senior Justice in the Amherst, New York Criminal and Civil Court, USA, Associate Professor Samantha Thomas from University of Wollongong, Australia and Professor Gerda Reith from University of Glasgow, UK.

I would also like to acknowledge those visitors from overseas and within New Zealand who have participated in the International Think Tank on Gambling Policy and Research Practice, over the past two days.

This year the conference is host to a wide range of international delegates.

There are approximately 200 delegates here from more than 12 countries which explains the diversity of the programme, which I note includes presentations from Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Uganda, the UK the USA and New Zealand.

The theme of this year’s conference is Gambling in a Mobile Era: Developments, Regulations and Responses.

With technology having made advances, which seem breath-taking for a lot of us, we have now reached a point where we can have the internet ‘in our pocket’. This of course allows for a great deal of convenience across a wide spectrum of activities in our lives.

However, for those in the business of minimising gambling harm, the downside is, the convenience offered by our smart phone or iPad is offset by the ease with which online gambling sites are able to be accessed.

Vulnerable populations in our global communities, particularly young people, are the groups who are most likely to be negatively affected by these advances.

Gambling in a mobile era presents a challenge for all of us so we all need to work to ensure these people are protected.

How we address that challenge, keep abreast of its development, plan its regulation and respond to its progress is the reason we are here for these few days.

Learning from each other is critical.

This conference gives us the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise from our collective experience.

This is a chance for you as participants to find out about the work and research programmes underway across the world, and perhaps closer to home as well.

In addition to my role of Associate Minister of Health, I have also recently been appointed Minister of Internal Affairs.

Both these roles I have considerable experience in, having held them both at various stages over the last two decades or so, although never before at the same time.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to see the strong linkages that exist between the Department of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Health.

I see the ‘dovetailing’ of these two ministerial roles as a positive, enabling me to maintain a broad overview of the wider gambling and harm minimisation sectors.

I am pleased to note that there is considerable work being undertaken by the Department of Internal Affairs including policy advice on compliance, harm minimisation and regulatory oversight.

It is intending to carry out a review of harm minimisation systems that will look at, among other topics, the benefits and costs of introducing pre-commitment systems and other types of harm minimisation technology.

New Zealand’s Gambling Act was passed in 2003. By and large, it is still working well. Since its enactment its focus on public health has remained a central focus of the strategy to prevent and minimise gambling harm here in New Zealand.

Our strategy includes a focus on prevention using a population based health approach, and importantly it also incorporates a research component to continue the building of a strong evidence base.

In New Zealand the Ministry of Health funds and manages a research programme that includes population surveys on gambling, clinical trials, and service evaluations.

The research also includes a focus on inequalities between Maori, Pacific and Asian groups and different socioeconomic groups.

Through this research we are fortunate to be able to generate quality evidence on changes in gambling related harm over time, and the effectiveness of interventions for preventing and minimising this harm.

This allows the Ministry, the New Zealand public and sector stakeholders to be informed about the impact of gambling.

Two pieces of work in particular stand out from the significant body of research the Ministry of Health has commissioned.

These are the Outcomes Framework for Preventing and Minimising Gambling Harm Baseline Report and what is thought to be the largest clinical trial of interventions for problem gambling in the world.

Interestingly, the clinical trial demonstrated that brief interventions delivered over the telephone can be very effective in reducing gambling related harm.

This finding is particularly relevant given the ‘Gambling in a Mobile Era’ theme of this conference.

I am pleased to note that this conference focuses on the benefits of technological change, in addition to the potential downsides of it. After all, for all those for whom access to new technology might be problematic in terms of gambling issues, there are nonetheless opportunities for service providers to connect better with clients.

A double edged sword, if you like.

The Baseline Report which the Ministry commissioned KPMG to produce, aims to identify short, medium and long term outcomes to enable an integrated approach to gambling harm.

While the baseline report adds significant value in its own right, important additional value will come from the proposed on-going annual reports that will measure progress and trends against the baseline.

The Ministry is giving a presentation on this work later in the Conference.

I think we all know, from a variety of sources including the media and our own personal experience that young people are among the most avid adopters of mobile technology.

The implications of this, in terms of their gambling, are still emerging in New Zealand.

An example of a piece of New Zealand research that has particular relevance to this conference is the Youth 2012 survey, which included questions on mobile phone and internet gambling.

The findings from the survey for young Maori for example, indicated that since 2007 the proportion of young males who gamble has declined significantly and for young females it has not changed.

The Ministry is undertaking further research into the participation of young people in gambling activity. While the preliminary results show a pleasing decreasing trend in participation there is no room for complacency given those participation levels include a small proportion of youth (1.5%) that participate in electronic and mobile forms of gambling.

Lastly, on the research front, the Ministry has also funded the largest longitudinal study of gambling in New Zealand, which is still in progress. The methods of this study are informed by similar international studies in Australia and Sweden and include questions about mobile and internet-based gambling and I have no doubt will provide valuable information on an on-going basis.

Like many countries around the world New Zealand continues to debate the issue of reducing gambling harm with 2013 being a stimulating and thought-provoking year, which included two significant events for the gambling and harm minimisation sectors in New Zealand.

Firstly the Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Act 2013.

This Act addresses regulation making powers for the return of proceeds from gaming machines that operate in venues such as pubs to the communities where the funds were raised, to strengthen New Zealand’s Community Funding Model.

The public has been consulted about these new "localised return" regulations and I hope to seek Cabinet agreement to new regulations this year.

The Act also included new regulation making powers to provide for technological developments to prevent gambling harm.

New regulations could require the use of pre-commitment and other technologies in non-casino gaming machines. Officials are currently looking at the feasibility, and potential costs and benefits, of introducing such systems.

I am aware of overseas examples where such technologies are being used or are planned for introduction, such as Canada, Sweden and Norway, that we can draw on in terms of lessons learned.

Secondly, agreement was reached on the development of a national convention centre in Auckland which includes additional gambling facilities in SkyCity’s Auckland Casino. The New Zealand International Convention Centre Act was passed in November 2013 and I am well aware of the keen interest in this legislation, particularly by many here today.

As with many jurisdictions, New Zealand has seen a great deal of debate on the balance between economic development opportunities and minimising potential gambling harm/risk. Like it or not, there must be a pragmatic, balanced approach to addressing potential harms, while maintaining economic growth.

This balance is present in almost every facet of our lives. I believe that an appropriate balance was achieved with this legislation. This country simply will not prosper, as it is prospering at the moment, if we take the mentality that anything that carries the potential of an adverse effect, should be ruled out or banned.

Through all the debate on this agreement, much of it in good faith, some of it opportunistic political points scoring, I think many failed to recognise the significant decline in gaming machine numbers over the last decade - from over 25,221 in 2003, to 17,266 in December 2013.

A drop of almost 8000 machines. Yes, there will be an increase in machine numbers at the Auckland casino as a result of this agreement, but overall I am confident that numbers will continue to decline, a situation I am satisfied mitigates the small increase in numbers in a location that is, it must be remembered, primarily a gambling destination.

To some extent, the opposition to the Convention Centre on the grounds that there would be more poker machines was a bit like protesting at a bar increasing the number of beer taps it has on the counter.

Finally I note on the Programme that in a pre-conference workshop Judge Farrell addressed Therapeutic Justice and its application through the medium of Treatment Courts. Of particular interest is how the Therapeutic Protocol can be applied to problem and pathological gamblers by virtue of the concept of Gambling Treatment Courts and currently how this operates in the world’s only Gambling Treatment Court in Amherst, New York.

New Zealand has established and is piloting an Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction Court within the New Zealand Justice system.

Whilst in its early days I am sure the experience shared by Judge Farrell will generate further thought and discussion regarding the intersection between pathological gambling and the justice sector here in New Zealand.

For all of you, whether you are working to prevent and minimise gambling-related harm, to provide treatment and support to people experiencing gambling harm, or to undertake research, connecting and communicating is fundamental part of your role.

This conference is a wonderful opportunity for you all to connect and communicate with each other, to learn from each other, and to continue to build on your knowledge and expertise.

I strongly encourage you all to make the most of the opportunity. I, and this government, take gambling harm seriously, and I will continue to push the Ministry to ensure it is deriving the best value for money from the $18.5 million invested in preventing and minimising gambling harm this year.

I would like to reiterate my best wishes to you all for a productive and informative few days. To our overseas guests, I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy the diverse sights, sounds, food, drink and activities Auckland and New Zealand have to offer.

I thank you for your attention, and I wish you well in your work.

ENDS

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