The Government's strategy to reduce gambling harm includes residential care for the most addicted problem gamblers, peer-support networks and technology pilots, such as a possible facial recognition database.

The strategy, released this morning by Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa at South Seas Healthcare Clinic in South Auckland, will cover three years starting on July 1 and cost $60 million, funded by the levy on gambling operators.

The strategy follows last year's He Ara Oranga report on mental health and addiction, which noted: "Gambling was also seen as harmful due to its addictive nature and the financial stress and anxiety it causes families, contributing to neglect of children and family violence."

It includes $5m for new services and innovation pilots, targeting those most adversely affected by gambling harm, particularly Māori, Pacific, Asian and low-income groups.


The funding includes $500,000 to pilot residential care, and $700,000 to pilot peer support, $2.3m for new intervention services for communities, and $1.5m for technology such as online support and machine-related monitoring.

The exact make-up of these new services is yet to be determined and will take time to develop, but the Ministry of Health strategy document states that it could be used to fund a database with facial-recognition capabilities, or develop online support tools "to monitor and manage or limit player exposure to gambling harm".

Residential care would target a small number of severely addicted gamblers - about five people a year - in the same way that such care is available for problem drinkers or drug addicts.

"The ministry will work with providers to develop and pilot a clinically robust model of care, based on intensive treatment for people experiencing severe gambling harm, but likely allowing for support for co-existing issues in addition," the ministry's strategy document said.

Peer-support involves people who have recovered from gambling addiction, and is a service that health advocates say has been missing for a long time.

"Outcomes from peer services are as good as if not better than conventional services, yet there currently are no funded peer-support positions within gambling harm services," the document said.

Reported rates of gambling harm are at their lowest levels in 25 years, but the burden of harm attributable to low-risk gambling is significant, at nearly 50 per cent of all gambling harm.

Cabinet also decided to increase the proportion of the gambling levy funded from the money lost by gamblers. Gambling service operators opposed this.


The levy is paid by non-casino gaming machine operators, casinos, the New Zealand Racing Board and New Zealand Lotteries Commission.

"The strategy also aligns with the mental health and addiction initiatives in Budget 2019, which aim to improve access to a range of free services and support for mental health and addiction," Salesa said.

The centrepiece of the Government's 2019 Budget was a strong focus on mental health and addiction services, including a $19 billion package.

Gambling harm

• Affects 5 per cent of the population

• One in five will be affected at some time in their lives by their own or someone else's gambling.

• About 37,000 people aged 15 years or older are "problem gamblers", 47,000 are at moderate risk, and 106,000 are at low risk, but would experience gambling-related harm.