Fight against problem gambling to focus on Māori, Pacific and Asians

The Government has announced a $60 million package to fight problem gambling, with a focus on helping Pacific and Asian communities.

Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa says the new approach "aligns strongly" with what was recommended in the recent mental health and addiction inquiry and new initiatives announced in the recent Budget.

The spending will take place over three years, with $5 million of new spending dedicated to piloting new services and improving "equities".

"Currently about 5 percent of New Zealand's population experiences some level of individual gambling harm, and one in five New Zealanders will be affected by their own or someone else's gambling during their lifetime," said Salesa.

"Improving equities for Māori, Pacific and Asian communities, which are disproportionately impacted by gambling harm, is a key focus of the new strategy."

The funding comes from a levy paid by "non-casino gaming machine operators, casinos, the New Zealand Racing Board and New Zealand Lotteries Commission".

Gaming machines are still the worst form of gambling out there, Problem Gambling Foundation spokesperson Andree Froude told The AM Show earlier on Friday morning.

"It's really pleasing to see they've highlighted pokies in poor communities because that is a significant issue," she said ahead of the announcement, based on previous statements by the Ministry of Health.

"There's five times more pokies in our poor communities as in our more affluent areas. That's where the pokies have been put - they're not in our more affluent areas because obviously, they're not making as much money in those areas. We've got situations where our communities are... being funded by these machines that are causing so much harm. 

"With five times as many in our poor communities, it's the vulnerable people and communities that can't afford to be losing that money... that are being significantly impacted."

The strategy, released on Friday morning, backs up Froude's claims.

"Approximately 50 percent of all [pokies] (which is the source of the highest risk of harmful gambling activity) are located in the most socioeconomically deprived areas (ie, the poorest areas of the country). Economically, people in these areas can least afford financial losses from gambling."

While many councils have implemented 'sinking lid' policies on pokies - where decommissioned machines aren't replaced - Froude says they have a big flaw.

"Sinking lids take forever."

Since 2003, the number of pokies in non-casino outlets has dropped from 25,221 to 15,420 - but spending has increased in recent years, from a historic low of $806 million in 2013/14 to $895 million in the last financial year.

Spending on casino gambling has fluctuated in recent years, heavily influenced by the number of 'VIP' gamblers, the strategy says.

Lotto spending is volatile depending on the frequency of large jackpots, but has been trending upwards as the Lotteries Commission diversifies its product range. This year Kiwis are expected to spend almost $600 million on games run by the commission.