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3 December 2014

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Gambling operators need to improve problem gambling identification

The Department is working with gambling operators to improve their identification and management of problem gamblers following new research.

In a first for Internal Affairs as gambling regulator, the Department initiated a mystery shopper campaign that sent undercover gamblers to casinos, pubs, and hotels to test whether patrons, showing warning factors that could indicate potential problem gambling, were adequately dealt with by venue staff.

While overall participation in gambling by New Zealanders has reduced, Ministry of Health figures show that problem gambling rates have stayed much the same.

“Although we recognise challenges exist in approaching patrons about their gambling, the results are disappointing," says Raj Krishnan, Director Gambling Compliance. “But this provides a baseline of information and we will be working hard to ensure gambling operators improve their performance in this area.

“Regulations state that staff at gambling venues must be trained in identifying problem gamblers. If a gambler is showing signs of problem gambling, staff should be intervening to ensure that person is alright, providing help if necessary.

“In pubs and hotels (Class 4 gambling) our undercover gamblers found the amount of intervention by staff was minimal. We believe the same can be said for casinos."

Pubs and hotels (Class 4 venues):

Of the 102 venues visited by undercover gamblers there was no intervention from staff in 101. The Department is working with gambling operators to determine whether any of the behaviours displayed by the mystery shoppers were formally noted anywhere, or went entirely unnoticed.

Recognised best practice for monitoring gambling areas is to conduct ‘sweeps’ of the area every 15 minutes.  Fourteen out of the 102 venues achieved the desired result. Ten venues had no sweeps.

A “sweep” of a gambling area refers to a staff member entering the area to develop an awareness of patrons and their behaviour, and to ensure they are not displaying signs of gambling harm


A total of 16 visits took place to the six casinos in New Zealand.

Fourteen out of 16 scenarios did not result in any direct intervention from casino staff to indicate they had noticed the undercover gambler’s behaviour. However, there were a number of conversations between casino staff and undercover gamblers that may have allowed casino staff to assess for problem gambling indicators. These conversations were not recorded by the casinos in any daily logs (a record of all security and harm minimisation incidents and observations) and therefore were not counted as an intervention in this study.

The Department is working with the casinos to assess the extent to which these conversations can assist in the prevention of gambling harm.

One visit resulted in information being given about problem gambling.

Mr Krishnan says: “The reason for carrying out the mystery shopper exercise was to find out how staff at gambling venues are putting into practice their Host Responsibility training in the specific area of identifying and responding to particular problem gambling indicators.

“We believe this clearly shows more focus on identifying and intervening with people exhibiting problem gambling signs is needed from both casinos and Class 4 operators. New initiatives may be needed to make the difference, and upcoming reform in the Gambling Amendment Bill (No 2) will also help.

“People who enjoy gambling need to know that they can do so in a safe environment, where trained staff are willing to intervene to minimise harm.”

Full details of the Mystery Shopper exercise are on the Department's website.