New Zealand's major banks say they are looking at measures to restrict the use of credit cards to pay for gambling.
But budgeting advocates say the banks are behind the eight ball compared to Australia and more needs to done to address the hidden issue which can land people in financial strife.
ANZ Group introduced a cap on how much credit can be drawn down on online gaming platforms in December last year and its New Zealand subsidiary says it has begun talks with the gambling industry here with a view to "eventually" introducing similar measures.
In a report released to ANZ investors last month the bank said its decision to restrict those who had reached 85 per cent of their credit limit from spending on gambling had stopped A$17.39 million ($18.31m) worth of transactions going through in the first three months.
The policy only applies to online gambling as its Australian customers are already blocked from drawing down on their credit cards at gaming venues.
The report said the bank also planned to introduce a self-exclusion mechanism in which customers could "opt out" of the ability to gamble on their credit cards by the end of 2019.
The controls that banks can place on credit cards to help stop problem gambling was a hot topic at last year's Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into misconduct in the financial services sector.
One customer of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia - parent of New Zealand's ASB - told the commission how he had begged the bank to stop giving him credit card limit increases because it was fuelling his addiction.
In the year to 30 June 2018, gamblers in New Zealand spent $2.38 billion on Lotto, gaming machines, racing and sports betting and casinos - up $49m on the prior year.
Spending on racing and sports betting rose the most jumping 3.6 per cent to $350m, with significant growth in digital channels through the TAB website and mobile app being pointed to as a driver.
In March SkyCity Entertainment Group, New Zealand's largest casino operator, said it planned to launch an online casino by mid-way through this year.
Asked whether they planned to introduce restrictions on using credit cards to gamble like ANZ in Australia other major banks said they had plans but did not provide details or timeframes.
A BNZ spokesman said: "We don't currently have measures like this in place, but we are exploring options and features along these lines."
A Westpac spokesman said it recognised the social harm caused by problem gambling and was already investigating a range of possible measures to help those customers at risk.
ASB said it had had rules in place since 2015 around limit changes on credit cards to help address potential issues arising from gambling and the use of credit.
"We are continuing to develop our monitoring and support for customers where gambling, and other potentially problematic spending behaviours, increase the risk of poor outcomes."
FinCap chief executive Tim Barnett said Australia had a much bigger focus on gambling related issues and how the financial sector could step in to help people.
"We are just not seeing this in New Zealand. Banks here are behind the eight-ball. It is a major hidden issue."
Barnett said gambling using a credit card was reasonably widespread in New Zealand but was hard to quantify because there was no data on it.
But he expected it to be growing with the increase in online gambling.
"We would like to see banks doing a lot more." He said the ANZ credit card restrictions would be a good start but it could be a lot more organised and co-ordinated across the financial sector to prevent harm from gambling.
A spokeswoman for the Problem Gambling Foundation said it applauded the ANZ bank in Australia for taking measures and hoped it happened in New Zealand too.
"It [the cap] will be a good harm minimisation tool and protect the vulnerable. Providing the option to completely 'opt out' of using a credit card for gambling is also a great tool and one that we also hope to see implemented here.
"It provides a level of consumer protection for people who do gamble online, particularly on websites based outside of New Zealand in jurisdictions where the environment is unregulated and consumers aren't protected by New Zealand law."
She said bank restrictions would be a step in the right direction to helping problem gamblers but wouldn't be enough to prevent it.
"We still need to see effective host responsibility by the providers of gambling products in the form of spending limits, warnings on games that contain 'in-app' purchases and loot boxes, and age restrictions on games that contain those things."
She said many New Zealanders did not realise that if they gambled on an overseas-based website, which they can do legally, they are not protected by New Zealand law which opens them up to the risks of gambling in an unregulated environment including difficulty claiming any prize money and funds being taken from a credit card by the gambling operator.
Tom Hartmann, at the Commission for Financial Capability, said credit cards and gambling were a particularly toxic mix because people were borrowing to gamble and it could result in people paying more for the entertainment than they intended to.
"You think you are placing a $100 bet but then end up paying $150 for it."
Hartmann said online gambling could be particularly risky saying casinos often had signs over their ATMs saying "know when to stop", but in the online environment when a credit card was hooked up automatically there were fewer barriers.
He said an 85 per cent limit was still high but could stop people going over their limit through gambling and incurring charges.
"A cap like this would help," he said.
But even someone with a cap could get into trouble if they couldn't afford to pay that amount back, he warned.
Hartmann said it was better that people used cash and had a limit in mind. Losing cash meant people felt an immediate pain point while a credit card typically delayed that feeling.