Fewer Kiwis are gambling but the rate of gambling-related harm remains the same, a long-running study has found.

AUT's latest National Gambling Study, released today, said gambling participation in New Zealand fell from 80 per cent to 75 per cent between 2012 and 2015.

Over the same period, the level of people who were classed as moderate-risk or problem gamblers remained at 2 per cent of adults.

This rate has now been stable for around 15 years, defying the theory that harm would fall alongside the overall rate of gambling.


AUT gambling and addictions research centre director Professor Max Abbott said the rate of problem gamblers was static because many people fell back into old habits.

"High relapse is a large part of the reason why rates of harm have remained much the same in the face of declining participation," he said.

That was concerning because the harm associated with gambling had been found to outweigh that of substance abuse, Abbott said.

To be defined as a problem gambler, a person had to have behavioural problems, such as losing control of their spending, and for their gambling to have had negative consequences, such as affecting their relationships.

Electronic gaming machines (also known as pokies), online gaming, and games like Instant Kiwi were often responsible for people falling back into addiction.

While Instant Kiwi and online gambling usually did not usually hook people into problem gambling in the first place, they were often responsible for people resuming their addiction.

The study tracked a national sample of 2770 people between 2012-2015.

Over this period, the number of electronic gaming machines, also known as pokies, fell. But the machines remain heavily concentrated in poorer areas like South Auckland.


People in high deprivation areas were more at risk of developing a gambling problem.

"So you've got very vulnerable, high-risk groups in communities with high exposure to the most addictive forms of gambling," Abbott said.

He wants gambling machines removed from pubs and clubs altogether. Many community groups were dependent on the income from pokies, and alternative funding sources needed to be found to fund them, he said.

Gambling participation peaked at around 90 per cent in New Zealand in the mid-1980s after the introduction of pokies. It has fallen steadily since the mid-1990s.