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Foodbanks see gambling woes

31 August 2006

Foodbanks see gambling woes

Poverty and gambling remain inextricably tied, with people in poor areas lured by a sense of false hope.

A routine survey of those using Salvation Army foodbanks shows a disproportionately high number of their clients have gambling problems.

Major Lynette Hutson, the Army’s national manager for Addictions and Supportive Accommodation Services, said government and the gambling sector continued to under-estimate the extent of the problem among those who could least afford to lose their money.

“If the people we talk with at our foodbanks are in work, they might typically earn $300 a week. Spending a quarter of that on pokies, at the casino or on Lotto, leaves little if anything to pay the everyday bills.

“It doesn’t matter where we are talking about in New Zealand, poverty is always the constant.”

Major Hutson said that while there had been a decrease in pubs and clubs with pokie machines, they were still concentrated in poorer areas.

“These are the people who can least afford to gamble. But they are wooed by a faint glimmer of false hope. The problem spirals until it affects all areas of their lives, their jobs, their families, their friends.”

The Salvation Army began surveying users of some of its foodbanks in 2003. Of those seeking foodbank help, 14 per cent admitted to gambling problems – against the national average of 1.35 per cent.

Major Hutson said those figures remained largely unchanged and the foodbanks continued to survey clients to identify whether they had a gambling problem, for which they needed help.

“An alarming trend is that the majority of those affected by problem gambling are in families with dependent children. There is also a high prevalence of Maori and Pacific Island women.”

Major Hutson is calling on government to increase the problem gambling levy. The Ministry of Health is currently asking for submissions on its Preventing and Minimising Gambling Harm: 2007-2010: Consultation Document. It includes a three-year service plan, problem gambling needs assessment and problem gambling levy calculations. Submissions close September 29.

Under the proposal, gambling outlets will be required to fund the levy to the tune of approximately $23 million a year over the next three years – compared with player losses of $5 million a day.

“The levy needs to be increased so we can more actively respond to what has become a huge problem in many communities. Gambling is so insidious and tends to be far more hidden. Addictions to drugs and alcohol emerge more quickly because you can see the effects of abuse.”

Hutson cites the case of one client who worked 72 hours a week to support his wife and three children.

“He was looking for a way to ease the burden and gambling gave him an illusion that he was going to make some money. He felt hopeful. But in reality, he lost his home, his wife, access to his children, his job and his health.”

Hutson said it was not uncommon to go into the homes of those who admitted gambling problems and find they had sold everything of value, including children’s beds, the fridge and the washing machine.


* Source: Department of Internal Affairs, www.dia.govt.nz

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