Problem gambling and addiction experts say a racecourse game for children to pick winners in return for lollies is a bad practice and should be stopped.

The promotion, known as the "kiddie pick", involves a child choosing three horses they think might win a race. If a horse comes in, the child receives lollies or chocolate as a prize.

At least two Canterbury racing clubs offer the kiddie pick - the Banks Peninsula Racing Club and the Rangiora Racing Harness Club. The clubs say the promotion is simply entertainment and had been running for years.

But those in the problem gambling field say the game could encourage youngsters to take an interest in betting - and racing bosses have urged the clubs offering kiddie picks to "reconsider".

Advertisement

NZ Racing company secretary James Dunne said: "The 'kiddie pick' is something that they would discourage and we would expect thoroughbred racing clubs to reconsider these sorts of promotions in the future.

"Our view is that there are better ways to engage children and families in the fun and excitement of thoroughbred racing on race day."

Problem Gambling Foundation communications director, Andre Freud, said that the kiddie pick could be a gateway into gambling.

"It's almost grooming in many ways, because even though they're doing this as a fun activity, it's introducing them to the whole thing of reward, picking a jockey on a horse and watching it race and wanting it to win and then getting a reward," Freud said.

Freud said it comes down to protecting children from adult behaviours until they're ready to make adult decisions.

Director of the National Addiction Centre and clinical psychologist Simon Adamson, also had concerns about the promotion.

"It's explicitly targeting children, you know they're going to be interested when sweets are involved and it's actually quite cynical to be playing up to something that they (the clubs) should be discouraging rather than actively encouraging," he said.

"I can't see how anyone that thinks gambling addiction is a real thing could dismiss this as being the PC brigade - when you are actively engaging children in a behavior that we have an age restriction on for a reason," Adamson said.

Advertisement

Senior lecturer and member of the Gambling and Addictions Research Centre at AUT, Dr Jason Landon said that a lot of adults with gambling problems remember those early positive events at racing clubs.

"Ideally I don't think we'd want it happening. People tend to remember positive experiences and if behaviours become normalised they're much more likely to be repeated," Landon said.

The Rangiora racing club secretary Greg Wright said the kiddie pick was offered at each of its race meetings.

Parents could pick up a kiddie pick entry form when they collected their race book, Wright said.

"The parents can decide if they want to pick any numbers, have the worker in the booth pick the numbers, or allow the child to pick," Wright said.

"We generally run the picks from race 3 to 8 and if the numbers chosen for each race get first, second or third, the entry form is presented for a sweet," he said.

Secretary of the Banks Peninsula club, Gareth Murfitt, said the club offered a kiddie pick at its Annual Country Race meeting, and had done so for over 30 years.

"This has been a very popular offering among the children's entertainment, with many parents coming into the office to find out if we have one operating and where it is located," Murfitt said.

He did not believe the kiddie pick encouraged underage gambling.

"The kiddies pick is a way of providing another form of entertainment to children but at the same time encouraging them to watch the horse race and cheer on a jockey and their horse," Murfitt said.

Both Murfitt and Wright said their clubs offered a range of entertainment such as puppeteers, pony rides, face painting, a bouncy castle besides the kiddie pick.