Govt decision near on extra money for problem gambling services

By Paula Oliver

The Government is close to a decision on whether to boost funding for problem gambling services, despite some high-profile difficulties with organisations that treated only tiny numbers of people.

The Ministry of Health wants more money to do the job for the next three years than it has had for the past three.

Part of the reason is an expectation that the number of people being referred to treatment services is likely to increase as a result of ministry-funded projects.

These include screening training projects and a marketing campaign.

The Gambling Commission has also recommended a lift in funding to a total of $64.9 million over the three year period from July 1 to June 30, 2010.

The money is extracted from gambling operators through a levy, and Cabinet is due to decide whether to adopt the commission's recommendation in coming weeks.

But National Party internal affairs spokeswoman Sandra Goudie is unconvinced that more money is needed when audits of service providers have already raised a number of concerns.

The audits of 28 providers have led to the contracts of three being terminated, the funding of five being reduced, and five others coming under "closer monitoring".

The ministry expects the changes made following the audits to save around $750,000 each year.

Ms Goudie argued that amounted to $2.25 million of savings over three years, which should be taken into account when the next levy is set.

But in a reply to a parliamentary question from Ms Goudie, Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor said the additional savings would not have an effect on the next levy period, but probably the one after - 2010 to 2013.

An outline of how the ministry has spent the levy funding over the 2004-07 period shows it is likely to spend $46.8 million. The levy actually collected over that period was about $9 million below what was approved to be collected. The ministry said the new levy it is seeking for the next three years takes that into account, lifting the total by that amount.

Asked if those paying the levy could be confident the money was being used responsibly and not wasted, the ministry said yes.

Last year it was revealed that hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to some organisations that treated only small numbers of people.

In one case, Hamilton's Pacific People's Addiction Service received $143,160 to provide counselling for a target of 308 people - but it attracted only eight users at an average of $17,895 per gambler. Its funding has since been reduced.

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