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NZ online gambling comes under the microscope

Wed, Aug 21, 8:04am by Staff Writer

Online gambling is growing in New Zealand, but critics say new government ideas for the regulation of gambling websites focus on what is good for the industry and not what protects people from harm.

RNZ reports the story of Charlotte, who sat in a car and wept hours after attending a close family member’s funeral.

She was in her mid thirties and over the previous decade accumulated almost $40,000 of debt.

Some days she would call in sick to her Wellington job when her card declined at the petrol station and she had no way to make it to the office.

After the funeral in 2017 she opened Facebook to an ad for Mega Moolah, an international online casino promising “free spins”.

She created an account, deposited $10 and tried the virtual slot machines.

She played against the next day and on the third day won a small amount, $100 or so, she doesn’t remember.

“It was a nice distraction from reality. I remember being struck by the pretty colours and fancy music and the thrill of the spinning wheels. I thought what’s the harm, I’ve got next-to-nothing to my name anyway.”

The win pushed her to keep playing.

A part of her saw it as a viable way of earning some money on the side.

A few weeks later she won $5000.

“That was worth one of my credit card debts, so I started to hope I could pay more off.”

It was the start of a gambling problem – one she says started in a few parts.

The first was after the funeral and last four months. She was obsessive.

“I was playing every day, for hours and hours and every time I logged back in it was like going back into the same dark place. It was an escape from feeling alone in the world.”

Eventually, somehow, she managed to stop – banning herself from the site. She didn’t tell anyone.

Charlotte’s second problem gambling stint began only a few months after her first ended. Her financial troubles hadn’t eased and life still felt like a struggle. She decided to “dabble” again, yet “pushed and pushed and pushed” herself to play more. The same sickening feeling returned as she spent more and more on the digital slot machines. Then she won an $80,000 jackpot.

Charlotte paid off her debt and started making plans for the remainder of the money, flirting with the idea of buying her own home.

But guilt soon replaced joy. She says the money began to feel “dirty”. She would tell herself, “You’re single, you don’t need to spend money on a house,” or, “You still  don’t have enough for anything meaningful.”

She sighs. “You would like to think that a functional and intelligent human being working full-time would be able to stop after winning $80,000.”

Four options floated by government

An incredible $381 million has been poured into offshore operators in the past 18 months by New Zealanders as the government announced it wants to review the 2003 Gambling Act to ensure it keeps up with technological change.

On July 31, the Department of Internal Affairs released a discussion document suggestion four options for reform.

Critics say it is more focused on what is good for the economy rather than reducing harm from gambling.

Three of the options would lead to more gambling products being made directly available to Kiwis, while the fourth retains the status quo.

Right now, Lotto and the TAB are the only legal online gambling providers.

The first of the government’s reforms would allow either to offer more online gambling products such as online casino, to persuade New Zealanders to stay in the market.

The second would allow new licenced operators into the market.

The third would allow international operators to apply for New Zealand licences.

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