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Govt urged to release report on SkyCity deal

Govt urged to release report on SKYCITY deal

Professor Max Abbott, director of AUT University’s Gambling and Addictions Research Centre, today called for the Government to release the report it has received about the social and financial costs associated with the SkyCity Convention Centre deal. He said it is also important to have greater clarity about how harm minimisation measures built into the agreement will be put into effect and monitored.

“I am at a loss as to why this report cannot be put into the public domain. There is widespread interest in the likely wider social costs of this major development. Information has been released regarding the benefits. Why not also on the costs?”

Professor Abbott said he wants greater reassurance that the measures claimed to minimise problem gambling will be effective.

“SkyCity is to be commended for introducing an electronic monitoring system that has the potential to identify at-risk and problem gamblers. This is a world first. Likewise, expanding its voluntary pre-commitment programme to allow customers to set time and expenditure limits are positive moves. While promising, it is not known how effective these measures will be and much will depend on how casino staff use the information that is gathered. It is essential that the impact of these measures and other initiatives such as Ticket-in-Ticket-out cashless gambling is independently evaluated. This will reassure the wider community and provide information to further improve prevention and host responsibility services.”

Professor Abbott said problem gamblers are responsible for a large percentage of gambling expenditure and that approximately one in five people who gamble weekly or more often on electronic gaming machines (EGMs) In New Zealand are problem gamblers.

“In the last national problem gambling survey problem gamblers, about 1.3% of the adult population, accounted for around 20% of total reported gambling expenditure. Studies show that the problem gambler share is much higher for EGMs, as high as 30% to 40%. People who are at-risk or have lower levels of problems also spend disproportionately.”

Professor Abbott said he was surprised to see that no mention was made of harm minimisation measures in the KordaMentha report that examined the finances of the agreement.

“This financial analysis is based on information provided by SkyCity and the Government and is stated to have been prepared in good faith and continues to represent their genuine views. If the measures designed to prevent and detect problem gambling are expected to be effective, why wasn’t this taken into account in the financial analysis? We are not just talking about the new machines and table games, we are talking about the total operation. Surely even modest success in reducing problems would also reduce gambling revenue?”

According to Professor Abbott there needs to be more transparency and informed discussion.

“If it is many years before the additional machines and table games are fully utilised and harm minimisation measures are even moderately effective, the negative impacts could well be less than many people believe. However, they could be worse. Without further information it is hard know.”

“The SkyCity development has wider implications for gambling policy. It underlines the importance of the Auckland Council maintaining a sinking lid on EGMs in pubs and clubs and finding ways to reduce their concentration in lower socio-economic neighbourhoods. A half of all problem gamblers live in the 20% most deprived areas. This is part of the reason why Maori and Pacific people are at much greater risk and why gambling deepens social inequality and increases health disparities. If electronic monitoring and pre-commitment work, they could be mandated for machines outside casinos as well.”


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