Like its neighbor Australia, New Zealand has been grappling with the issue of problem gambling related to poker machines, commonly known as pokies. While the majority of the population enjoys responsible gambling, government officials recognise the need to implement stricter regulations to protect vulnerable individuals and address the concerns surrounding excessive gambling.
In response to tragic incidents and growing public awareness, New Zealand is considering significant reforms to tighten the rules for casinos and others that offer pokie machines. This article examines the proposed regulations and the ongoing debate surrounding their effectiveness.
The tragic story of Morgan Barrett
The plight of problem gambler Morgan Barrett sheds light on the urgent need for such regulatory changes. Barrett lost his entire life savings of NZ$75,000 ($121,154) during a 300-day pokie gambling spree, tragically passing away from a heart attack on the day he depleted his savings. This tragic case has prompted policymakers to reassess the existing regulatory framework and address the gaps that allow harmful gambling practices to persist.
Proposed changes to gambling regulations
To combat problem gambling effectively, New Zealand is considering a range of meaningful changes. These proposals aim to provide better support for gamblers attempting to become Highrollers and hold establishments accountable for their role in promoting responsible gambling. Key measures being discussed include:
After a two-hour pokie session, establishments would be required to engage in conversations with gamblers to assess their well-being and identify signs of problem gambling.
Monitoring and Record-Keeping: Pubs and bars offering pokie machines would be mandated to observe and record indicators of problem gambling, enabling early intervention and support for at-risk individuals.
Mandatory Spending Limits: The introduction of spending limits would restrict the amount of money that can be wagered on pokies, reducing the potential for excessive losses. This would aim to reduce the ‘whales and cheetahs‘ gambling excessively and outside of their means at casino games.
Changes would be made to make pokie machines less enticing by reducing their visual appeal and lowering jackpot amounts, aiming to minimise the allure for vulnerable individuals.
Penalties and monitoring
Breaches of the proposed regulations would result in spot fines of NZ$1,000 ($1,615) imposed on publicans and bars for breaching the proposed rules, and monitoring compliance would be entrusted to gambling inspectors. While these regulations have the goal of addressing problem gambling, they have sparked varied responses among stakeholders, eliciting both support and skepticism regarding their potential effectiveness.
Advocating for stricter measures
Andree Froude from the Problem Gambling Foundation believes that the proposed changes fall short of what is necessary. She advocates for stricter measures, such as imposing higher fines on publicans, bars, and their employees, in order to provide better protection for gamblers and effectively address the issue of excessive gambling.
On the other hand, Peter Dengate-Thrush, the chair of the Gaming Machine Association, raises concerns about the lack of clarity in specific proposals. He questions the effectiveness of the Ministry of Health’s strategies in reducing problem gambling rates and warns against punishing the responsible majority for the actions of a small minority.
New Zealand’s consideration of tougher regulations for poker machines reflects a commitment to combat problem gambling and protect vulnerable individuals from its harmful effects. The proposed changes, including post-session talks, monitoring requirements, spending limits, and reduced appeal of pokies, aim to strike a balance between responsible gambling and preventing excessive losses. While there are differing opinions on the severity of the regulations, the ongoing discussions demonstrate a collective commitment to ensuring a safer gambling environment for all New Zealanders.