David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Casino hit over problem gambling

Health experts want SkyCity to reveal raw data to identify problem punters and to find ways to cut harm

Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

The public health experts who once led SkyCity's problem gambling programme say the casino doesn't do enough to prove they stop punters becoming addicts.

The casino's former problem gambling experts called for a halt to the review of the casino's harm minimisation plans so independent research can be carried out into claims Kiwis are not being excessively harmed.

They also told the Gambling Commission the casino's licence needs to be changed to force it to reveal information gathered with a new scientific formula designed to predict and weed out problem gamblers.

It comes ahead of an Auditor- General's report into a proposed deal which would see law changes allowing the casino to expand in return for building a $350 million International Convention Centre. The deal would see the casino's investment offset by law changes allowing hundreds of extra pokies and an extension of its monopoly.

Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday attacked opposition parties for blocking progress on the deal, telling Parliament: "While we're at it, the SkyCity convention centre - let's get that thing off the ground and going as well."

The submission from former harm minimisation group manager Shannon Hanrahan and host responsibility group manager Debbie Edwards has emerged from the overdue review of SkyCity's host responsibility programme.

The casino provides detailed statistics on problem gambling to the Gambling Commission and Department of Internal Affairs. But the former executives say the figures are not enough because "there is no independent assessment of the impact and effectiveness" of the programme.

Mr Hanrahan and Ms Edwards, who quit SkyCity in 2008 amid restructuring, said the casino was bound to report on its host responsibility programme to the commission.

"It is important to note that monitoring and reporting are not the same as evaluation." They said the practice of SkyCity reporting to the commission, and then input from stakeholders, had the potential for "horse-trading" which could "undermine the integrity" of the programme.

They also said the casino needed to make available to the Department of Internal Affairs raw data gathered using special formula designed to identify problem gamblers using loyalty cards. This anonymised raw data would help find how much money the casino earned from problem gamblers and would help identify emerging problem gamblers and find ways to control the damage done by "more harmful" gambling machines.

SkyCity's corporate communications manager Gordon Jon Thompson said the casino worked hard to make sure its "world-leading" programme was constantly reviewed.

"The former employees who have made this submission have not worked at SkyCity for some years and have not been involved in the day-to-day implementation of the programme." He said the programme had evolved, including changing machines to let punters set limits before gambling.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the submission raised questions which "called into question the integrity of the process. This is not an industry that should be allowed to engage in any form of self-regulation".

- NZ Herald

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