Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Kiwi punters lose $2 billion

Spending on TAB, Lotto and casinos equivalent to $3600 for every person in NZ.

New Department of Internal Affairs data shows expenditure rose 3 per cent. Photo / Christine Cornege
New Department of Internal Affairs data shows expenditure rose 3 per cent. Photo / Christine Cornege

New Zealanders lost a record $2.07 billion at the TAB, on poker machines, casino games and Lotto last year with bets totalling more than $16 billion - or more than $3600 for every man, woman and child.

The Problem Gambling Foundation and the Opposition say the recent growth in losses, particularly at casinos, is a worry given the prospect of more pokies at SkyCity.

New Department of Internal Affairs data shows expenditure - which is the amount gambled, less payouts received - rose 3 per cent to $2.068 billion in the year to June.

Losses at casinos led the way, rising 8 per cent to $509 million.

That increase was "due to growth across SkyCity's casinos and the Christchurch casino reopening after the February 2011 earthquake", Internal Affairs said.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said the reopening of the Christchurch casino after a large number of poker machines elsewhere in the city had been destroyed in the earthquake "had a big impact", but SkyCity had also been "aggressive" in its marketing.

"They're clearly looking to increase their revenue."

Mr Ramsey said the growth in gambling losses, particularly at casinos, was a big concern. "Particularly in hard times, a lot of people hope that gambling may get them out of those times but the reality is, of course, they make it worse for themselves.

"If you can afford to lose it, it's not a problem, but unfortunately there are too many people represented in those loss statistics who can't afford it, and as a result families go without."

Labour Party internal affairs spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said given the financial pressure many families were under, the amount being spent on gambling was causing "immense hardship".

The growth in casino betting and losses was "extraordinary given the sweetheart shonky deal of [SkyCity Auckland] massively expanding its pokie numbers in return for building a convention centre".

"It seems that casinos are one of the few industries doing really well at the moment, and are also one of the few industries that the Government is prepared to support and subsidise."

Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain acknowledged "that people have a tendency to gamble more in tough times" but said that when the latest data was compared with the previous record of $2.04 billion in annual losses in 2004 and adjusted for inflation, "total gambling is in fact reducing in New Zealand".

A SkyCity spokeswoman said growth in gaming revenue across the company's NZ and Australian casinos was 4.9 per cent during the year in question and the company took its host responsibilities "very seriously".

Its host-responsibility programme was "described as one of the best in the world by gambling experts", she said.

Internal Affairs' figures show gambling turnover in NZ last year - including "churn", where winnings are "reinvested" - totalled $16.06 billion, which works out to $3606 for every New Zealander.

The amount actually lost on non-casino pokies eased slightly to $854 million despite a slight increase in the amount fed into them.

The Lotteries Commission (Lotto, Big Wednesday and Instant Kiwi, etc) had another record year, with players losing $419 million on $948 million worth of tickets.

- NZ Herald

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