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Independent review slams one-sided study on gambling

A highly respected economics advisor has labelled a report commissioned by the Ministry of Health as “seriously flawed”, explaining that “no weight should be placed on [its] conclusions”.

The report, Measuring the Burden of Gambling Harm in New Zealand, was produced for the Ministry of Health at a cost of $319,000 and is now accused of more than ten research shortcomings in total.

In the report, “low risk” gambling, such as buying a Lotto ticket, was claimed to be as bad for a gambler’s health as the untreated amputation of a leg, while “problem gambling” was claimed to be as bad as suffering from a severe stroke or terminal cancer.

A review of the studies’ methodology produced by TDB Advisory concludes that these outlandish comparisons were made possible by a long line of deliberate selection biases and errors. The full briefing on the review has been released on video by the Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand (GMANZ) and can now be viewed online.

Errors revealed by the TDB Advisory review include either deliberately or by mistake using a biased population sample (participants were not randomly selected), attributing all harms to gambling and none to associated behaviours (such as smoking), and treating all harm as running 100% from gambling rather than calculating for the use of gambling as a coping mechanism or as a symptom of harms rather than the cause.

The report’s results have been cited in nine pieces of advice to Ministers, including in the Cabinet paper Strategy to Prevent and Minimise Gambling Harm 2019/20 to 2020/21. Ministers were told in one piece of advice that “a low-risk gambler typically has about 20% of their quality of life ‘subtracted’ by gambling”.

Following the TDB Advisory review, Bruce Robertson, spokesperson for GMANZ, labelled the Gaming Harm report “an expensive case of academic tripe”.

“These results simply are not credible and should not be used by anyone for anything”.

Robertson called for the report to be officially withdrawn, or to be subject to an official warning against its use.

“Good people have been misled into thinking that occasional gambling is comparable to having a heart attack. What should be patently ridiculous has been made plausible. That’s bad policy and bad faith.”


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