Problem Gambling Foundation Conference
Saturday 28 July 2001
Address by Hon George Hawkins, Minister of Internal Affairs
I would like to thank the Problem Gambling Foundation for inviting me to speak at this conference.
Conferences like this provide valuable opportunities to share information and engage in debate. In issues like the ones you are discussing here, even heated debate!
Informed debate is always valuable in an area of public interest that has evolved as quickly as this one.
Having looked at the Conference programme, it covers a wide range of issues. There are many very well-qualified speakers present. In particular, I understand that a number of delegates have travelled from overseas to be here. That is fantastic because it means this conference provides an opportunity to share information and ideas on gaming issues, on an international scale.
In comparison with many overseas jurisdictions, New Zealand is now very well served with up to date gambling related research. The New Zealand Gaming Survey is now complete, and between the seven separate reports published, offers a wealth of information on the nature and extent of gambling and problem gambling. This includes information on:
„h The prevalence of problem gambling;
„h Problem gambling risk factors; and
„h Problem gambling among prisoners.
The Problem Gambling Committee has also recently released another set of statistics on how problem gamblers seek help. And the Department of Internal Affairs has just released the fourth in a series of surveys on People¡¦s Participation and Attitudes towards Gaming.
There are major issues presently confronting the gaming sector in New Zealand. Since I became Minister of Internal Affairs last November I have met with many people from the sector, representing a wide range of interests. While all these people have concerns relating to their interests, they have all also talked about the present unsatisfactory state of our gaming laws and associated administrative arrangements.
I believe that my Department has done a good job of administering the laws that it has been given by Parliament. However, as a country we have allowed the gaming sector to grow at great speed, and our laws have not always kept up with the industry.
Previous Governments have done little to address these issues. But this Government has demonstrated a willingness to confront the issues, in the form of the Gaming Review. Decisions are being made, rather than being put off, and positive changes will result.
We are listening to New Zealanders in making these decisions. That will become clear as we announce our decisions, including some that I will share with you shortly.
Individuals and organisations up and down the country have made over 1300 submissions on the Gaming Review discussion document. I want to start by extending my thanks to all those who have made submissions ¡V your comments have been extremely useful, and are an important part of the review process.
Of course there are those who have been less constructive. A case in point is Arthur Pitcher who spoke to you earlier in the conference. Mr Pitcher is free to express his concerns over problem gambling, but I want to remind him that casinos are not part of the solution to problem gambling, but part of the cause.
I want to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the hard work of the Department of Internal Affairs in keeping the Review on track ¡V they are doing a great job.
I¡¦m sure that you would like an update on how things are going with the Review. Some decisions have already been made, albeit on an ¡§in principle¡¨ basis.
One of the key issues to be addressed by the Review is, of course, the management of problem gambling. You have already heard from the Deputy Prime Minister that this government will make important changes in the way that problem gambling is treated.
Until recently, problem gambling has been viewed by some as a problem that the industry should step in and fix. It hasn¡¦t been an issue that some thought warranted government intervention.
This government believes problem gambling is a serious public health issue, and should be treated as such. A number of ¡§high level¡¨ decisions have now been made on this basis.
The Government, and the Ministry of Health in particular, will take a much greater role in the area.
More specifically, the Government has decided to take an active role in managing problem gambling. This will include preventative measures that will be designed to avoid the development of gambling problems. Such initiatives could include providing consumer information to ensure that the public are aware of the odds.
The other aspect of an integrated approach is ensuring that treatment is available for those seriously affected by problem gambling. This is where the Ministry of Health will be taking a much greater role. Funding will come from the gaming sector, and services will be co-ordinated by the Ministry.
This Government has decided to keep the Lotteries Commission in public ownership. I know that privatisation of the Lotteries Commission has been debated in Britain, but that certainly won't be happening in New Zealand. The Commission will continue in its important role of generating funds for distribution to a wide range of community projects.
Another of the many issues raised in public submissions to the Gaming Review was the potential for community funds generated by gaming machines to be used for inappropriate purposes. The Government has taken this on board and, as a result, decided to substantially increase the number of audits performed by the Department of Internal Affairs on non-casino gaming machines.
One of the key issues coming out of the Review, is concern about casinos. Casinos have been a big growth area in recent years, both in terms of revenue and, of course, public concern.
I can today announce that, as part of the Gaming Review, this government has made an in-principle decision that we will issue no further casino licenses in New Zealand. Casinos will be limited to those sites that are currently licensed to operate in this country.
The gaming review has revealed that some people believe that casinos provide economic benefits to the communities in which they operate. But it is equally clear that many of those communities feel that these benefits do not outweigh the negative effects.
And so we have decided that there will be no more casinos beyond the sites that are already licensed ¡V those in Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown.
This is an important decision, and it signifies the overall direction of this government. We are listening to New Zealanders and we will step in and change the law.
Many more important decisions are yet to be made in the problem gambling area, and for the gaming sector generally. We will also be finalising the detail on the broad decisions I have just mentioned. And we need to make further decisions on how we are going to license non-casino gaming machines to ensure they are run honestly and make real returns to their communities.
Many of the issues being considered are complex and involve the balancing of competing interests. However, I can assure you that this Government takes the issues associated with the gaming sector seriously and will do something about them. I am looking forward to making further announcements over the next few months.
I¡¦ve appreciated this opportunity to speak today and to share our progress on gaming issues with you all. I regret that I am not able to stay longer. Please accept my best wishes for a productive day.