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NZ increases problem gambling services spending by almost 25%

| By Richard Mulligan
New Zealand’s government has set aside NZ$76.1m (£39m/€45.4m/USD$48m) to prevent and minimise gambling harm in its latest three-year integrated problem gambling strategy plan, which will run until 2025.

The latest triennial Ministry of Health plan comes in the wake of record gambling expenditure in the country during 2020-21, when $2.62bn was spent on non-casino gaming machine operators (NCGMs), Lotto NZ, TAB NZ and casinos combined.

The 24.6% increase in ministry expenditure on gambling services between 2022-25 comes at a time when, as the ministry concedes, the proportion of the New Zealand population who are at risk of gambling harm is at its lowest since the early 1990s.

However, because the adult population has grown, the ministry says this means that the actual number of people who are experiencing gambling-related harm has increased.

The ministry has identified a number of areas for improvement during the forthcoming period, including disproportionate levels of harm experienced by Māori and Pacific peoples, and by some segments of the Asian population. It has also seen higher levels of exposure to gambling products and disproportionate levels of harm experienced by people living in areas with high social deprivation scores and the possibility of a significant increase in online gambling.

The ministry will spend NZ$76.12m ($48.0m/£39.0m/€45.5m) on its strategic plan over the next three years from 2022-25, which is an increase of $15.8m from the prior period from 2019-22.

This will be funded by an increase in the levy on the country’s four identified gambling segments – NCGMs, Lotto NZ, TAB NZ and casinos. Gaming machine operators will pay a levy rate of 1.08% of player expenditure compared to 0.78% previously, while casinos move up from 0.56% of win to 0.87%. TAB NZ will now pay 0.76% of betting profits compared to 0.52% previously, with Lotto NZ up slightly from 0.43% of turnover less prizes paid to 0.44%.

Some $34.2m will be spent on clinical intervention and support, which is up almost $9m on the prior period. A further $24.8m has been earmarked for public health services, $7.9m on new services and innovation, and $3.4m for operating costs. The only area where funding has decreased is research and evaluation, which is down $971,000 to $5.6m.

“The new funding and strategy aligns our gambling harm prevention and minimisation efforts with the reforms to the health and disability system and the new mental health system we’re building,” said Andrew Little, minister of health.

Strategies outlined in the 2022-25 document have been made to align with the broader reforms currently underway across the health and disability system. These are underpinned by the $1.9bn Kia Manawanui whole-of-government action plan for the long-term transformation of the mental health and addiction sector, which was introduced from 2019.

Key strategic changes include strengthening partnership approaches to design and delivery of services, and increasing awareness and engagement for those at risk, with a greater focus on targeted public health initiatives developed in collaboration with priority populations, particularly young people.

Other new initiatives include developing and expanding digital services and support and developing and evaluating new services to increase choice and strengthen evidenced based service improvements using more action research methods with affected communities.

“Effective regulation of gambling means we can deal with harms including financial problems, relationship problems, family violence, and alcohol abuse,” said Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti. “The new investment and strategy is about showing we’re serious about protecting New Zealand from these harms.”

“The Strategy to Prevent and Minimise Gambling Harm was developed following public consultation in late 2021 and will ensure that services are co-designed with people with lived experience of gambling harm, service providers, community groups and industry bodies.”

The levy increase was criticised by Clubs New Zealand, the trade group that represents more than 300 clubs across the country, when it was revealed earlier this month.

“Clubs New Zealand’s take away from the levy review is that the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Internal Affairs have elected to do much of the same at a much greater cost,” a spokesperson said.

“In our submission on the levy review we argued that the current strategy is not working and this was evidenced by the fact that the level of harm in the overall population has not reduced since 2012, services provided are underutilised, and there is a general failure to meet the strategies’ objectives.

“The last strategy saw $1.5m allocated for funding harm minimisation technology; at the time of writing our submission, none of that $1.5m had been spent. There has been wide support for venue-based harm minimisation technology, however, this is met with increasing resistance from regulators.

“Clubs New Zealand is incredibly supportive of the problem gambling levy, but it must be set at a reasonable level with clear, defined and achievable objectives.”

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