Gambling industry, doctor at odds over pokies-poverty link

  • 12/02/2018

A Kiwi doctor who believes there is a link between gambling and child poverty is taking his case to the world stage.

Dr Lance O'Sullivan, who works for Maori health provider Hāpai Te Hauora, will speak at the International Gambling Conference in Auckland on Monday.

He says it's an issue the Government can start working at right away.

"Things like controlling these problematic gambling facilities and behaviours can be done really easily - the hard thing is do they have the political will to do it?" he said.

Dr O'Sullivan says gambling adds stress in low-income households, which puts children at higher risk of abuse. He says the first step would be to stop replacing old pokie machines.

"We need to regulate or control this more, because at the moment you can have a café or a bar in Kaitaia, and we don't have any idea if there are kids sitting out in the car who are hungry, hot and tired."

Independent Chair of the Gaming Machine Association Bruce Robertson says while he thinks it's "great" that Dr O'Sullivan is "so passionate and caring", he's not got it quite right.

"The reality is it's about 0.4 percent of the population who actually have an issue," he told The AM Show on Monday morning.

"The issue is, do we say that nobody can play gaming machines? Because the reality is a very small minority have an issue.

"What is really good is that the Government has now agreed that addiction issues are mental health issues, and that will certainly help Dr O'Sullivan and his patients with more tools."

The Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand estimates that one in every 16 Maori males, and one in 15 Maori women, are problem or moderate-risk gamblers.

It also says pokie machines are far more prevalent in poor neighbourhoods that wealthy ones, though Mr Robertson disputes that, adding he believes the group to be wrong, and that it is often "selective" about the statistics it publishes.

He believes gambling is a symptom, rather than the cause, of child poverty, and says while some use it as a form of escapism, there is appropriate help for those who need it.

"New Zealand has one of the best harm minimisation programmes in the world, and there's a $18 million levy collected from gaming machines to fund that," he explained.

However Dr O'Sullivan says Gaming Machine Association is putting a spin on the story to make it appear as though there isn't as big an issue as there actually is.

"I thought Bruce's comment was pretty weak, acutally, about the fact they don't have any control and that it's out of their hands," he said.

"Pokie machines are very addictive - the most harmful form of gambling - and we should be capping it."