New Zealanders are gambling less, and are also less worried about gambling, than they were a decade ago.

A survey of 6250 people by AUT University has found that participation rates have been falling since the mid-1990s for lotto and pokie machines, and since surveys began in the 1980s for racing.

Concern about all three main types of gambling peaked in 2005 and has eased since then as the country appears to have adjusted to a massive liberalisation of gambling after the introduction of lotto in 1987, pokies in 1988 and Auckland's Sky City casino in 1996.

Pokie machine numbers peaked at 25,200 in 2003, when a new Gambling Act was passed, and have declined since then to 16,600 - the lowest number for 15 years - as many councils have used the new law to adopt "sinking lid" policies.


Professor Max Abbott, who led the survey team, said every new form of gambling produced a temporary spike in gambling participation and concern, but then fell away in time.

"We saw it with lotto, which went from nobody doing it to over two-thirds of adults within two years," he said.

"We've seen it with Instant Kiwi, electronic gaming machines [pokies], all those forms. You have quite a rapid uptake and then over five, 10, 15 years, a significant decline. That's been a pattern that has repeated itself.

"The gambling industry is constantly changing and trying to introduce new twists and turns and new products and new ways of accessing them, but the novelty is wearing off."

Previous AUT surveys found that 30 per cent of all adults gambled at least once a week in non-continuous forms of gambling such as lotto and racing in both 1991 and 1999. In the latest survey that number has halved to just 16 per cent.

Adults playing pokies and other continuous forms of gambling at least once a week have plunged from 18 per cent in 1991 to 10 per cent in 1999 and just 6 per cent today.

"Problem gamblers", defined as having significant gambling-related problems such as losing control and suffering financial problems, halved from 4.3 per cent of all adults in 1991 to 1.9 per cent in 1999. The latest survey classed 2.4 per cent of adults as problem gamblers, but this may be partly because the earlier surveys were phone-based but the latest one involved face-to-face interviews.

"Participation is continuing to fall but harm is levelling out," Professor Abbott said. "So we have a small group of people gambling intensively at high risk."


The latest survey has also found much wider public acceptance of low-risk, non-continuous forms of gambling such as lotto, while concerns about high-risk continuous gambling such as pokies remains high.

Adults who feel lotto is "socially undesirable" rose from 13 per cent in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2005, but have dwindled to just 4 per cent today.

Those who see pokies as socially undesirable doubled from 30 per cent in 1990 to 64 per cent in 2005. That number has eased slightly to 57 per cent in the latest survey, but still means more than half of New Zealanders see pokies as undesirable.

Acceptance of horse racing falls in between lotto and pokies. Those who see it as socially undesirable almost doubled from 21 per cent in 1990 to 39 per cent in 2005, but have now fallen back to 20 per cent.

New Zealanders remain split on the number of gambling venues, a question asked only in the last two surveys. Those who felt there are "too many" gambling outlets were steady at 41 per cent in both surveys, but those who felt outlets were "about the right number" increased from 45 per cent in 2005 to 53 per cent, with fewer people undecided.

A massive 69 per cent of problem gamblers still say there are too many outlets, compared with only 39 per cent of non-problem gamblers and 45 per cent of people who don't gamble at all.

The survey was conducted in 2012 for the Ministry of Health. Participants are being followed up until next year to trace how individual gambling patterns change in relation to other elements in people's lives.