Pokie group faces flak over study

By Steve Deane

Favourable research trumpeted by Lion Foundation turns out to be an exercise by university students

Photo / Christine Cornege
Photo / Christine Cornege

A study published by the Lion Foundation which extols the benefits of funding community projects with gambling money is course work produced by a group of Massey commerce students.

The study, published on the foundation's website, says "the knowledge that Lion Foundation funding is providing support in areas where it can make the biggest real difference should be uplifting to all New Zealanders".

Massey University spokesman James Gardiner said the study was not a thesis. It had not been accredited or published by the university's library, and had not been subject to peer review.

"A group of students did an assignment," he said. "You don't peer-review things like that. They get marked."

The study accounted for 30 credits towards a 210-credit MBA degree.

The only conclusion that could safely be drawn from the report was that "funding of community organisations is a good thing", said Dr Vivienne Ivory of the Universityof Otago's department of public health.

The small sample size - 7 per cent of the Lion Foundation's grant recipients - and the failure to obtain information from groups that had not received funding meant any further conclusions would be unsound.

While it makes claims about the benefits of gambling grants, the study does not try to balance that against gambling harm, and does not address the moral and ethical issues of community gaming.

"It's really important to see it for what it is," Dr Ivory said. "If they were wanting to find out about the impact of Lion Foundation funding on community groups, then you'd need to ask people who didn't get funding. They might have quite a different take on it," she said.

The foundation was trading on Massey's reputation to pass the study off as a legitimate, rigorous academic work, despite it being merely an assignment completed by students.

"Lion is essentially saying 'because this was done at Massey it must be good'," Dr Ivory said.

"But until you can say it has been awarded, has been through some sort of review process, then it's just a report that you or I can write."

Lion Foundation chairman Simon Whyte said the report's publication was an attempt to bring balance to a debate about the pokie sector that too often focused only on the negatives associated with problem gambling.

"There is a major community and economic benefit from the charity gaming model," he said.

"I don't think people really understand the degree to which the community is funded by charity gaming. We are trying to ensure there is information out that can informdebate."

Gambling harm researcher Peter Adams said that the foundationwas "scraping the bottom of the barrel".

"If students' work is used as a basis for arguing how worthwhile it is, it seems like a pretty weak base to come from," Dr Adams said.

"They are also pumping it up as something else - as some form of independent quality-based research. It is more of a teaching exercise."

Lion Foundation chief executive Murray Reade said the foundation did not question the university's "scholastic validity", but it would consider how it used the report in future.

"We are pretty comfortable it was an independent study," he said.

"It wasn't motivated or generated by us."

Lion Foundation

• Charitable trust distributing income from pub poker machines.

• Last year made 4500 grants totalling $55 million.

• Says it is committed to informing Kiwis about NZ's charity gaming model.

• Quotes a study produced by Massey University master of business administration degree students.

• Massey says study is "course work'' and "not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of grant funding''.

- NZ Herald

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