NZ Health Minister Aims to Curb Gambling Harm

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Like much of the world, New Zealand has been experiencing a boom in online casino activity in recent years. However, the positive implications of this have also led to some negatives. Compulsive gambling is on the rise too. 

To curb and prevent the negative effects of gambling, Health Minister Andrew Little has implemented an ambitious and expensive project. Around NZ$76.1 million has now been allocated towards the venture, which will run until 2025. Previous estimates of funds needed were at around NZ$15.8 million, 25 percent less than the current figure. 

The ministry’s plan is called ‘Strategy to Prevent Gambling Harm’ (SPGH). It follows an unprecedented year in profit and spending within the New Zealand gambling industry. Consumers are reported to have spent around NZ$2.62 billion on non-casino gaming machines, Lotto NZ, TAB NZ, and casino games.

A Growing Issue

The increase in funding for the project is intended to compensate for an increase in population over the coming years. As the population grows the risk is expected to increase, and likely, so will the need for funds. According to their estimates, one in five people in the country will soon be at risk. However, more data needs to be collected to make a more accurate prediction.

Up till now, New Zealand has relied on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI). This screening tool is used in several countries. However, there is no standard application and the National Library of Medicine and many others believe PGSI to be inadequate. 

Over the past two years, and despite the boom in online gambling, official reports have acknowledged a slight dip in consumers at risk of gambling harm. Perhaps, even the lowest it’s been for two decades. However, with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in the country in April, this is expected to change very soon.

The ministry plans to move forward with its initiative, bolstered by the fund increase as well as reforms to their disability and mental health systems. Using SPGH, they wish to outline further strategies to help reform. This includes the NZ$1.9 billion action plan called ‘Kia Manawanui’.

Operators to Take the Brunt

The implementation of SPGH and other plans will likely mean an increase in the levy rate for New Zealand’s gambling operators. The increase will likely appear as the following:

  • For gaming machine operators – an increase to 1.08 percent in levy rate.
  • For casinos – 0.87 percent of winnings.
  • For TAB NZ – 0.76 percent of winnings.
  • For Lotto NZ – 0.444 percent of winnings.

However, a key strategy of the scheme is to improve and strengthen partnerships. Particularly when it comes to key members in the industry. It includes initiatives to raise awareness, and with a greater emphasis on health. The aim is also to focus on the youth, particularly within certain priority population groups.

The Backlash

Not everyone, however, is in favor of the SPGH. Clubs New Zealand, a trade group representing over 300 clubs in the country, has voiced its concerns over the levy hike. Their objection is not towards the plan though, but towards how it’s being implemented.

A spokesperson for the trade group has stated that they believe the government is making a risky bet. If the plan were to fail, the cost for all would be enormous.

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