Pokie funds 'unethical'

TRICKY SITUATION: University of Auckland Associate professor Peter Adams is conducting research into gambling under the umbrella of the university’s new Centre for Addiction Research.
TRICKY SITUATION: University of Auckland Associate professor Peter Adams is conducting research into gambling under the umbrella of the university’s new Centre for Addiction Research.

A leading researcher in gambling addiction says the country has developed an "unethical" dependence on pokie funds.

Associate professor Peter Adams from the University of Auckland has worked in the fields of drug and alcohol research since the 1980s, with a particular focus on gambling addiction in the last decade.

Dr Adams says in the early days New Zealanders had an innocuous relationship with gambling by dabbling in housie, racing bets and Golden Kiwi.

ADDICTIVE: Associate professor Peter Adams says New Zealanders had an innocuous relationship with gambling until pokie machines were introduced in the 1990s.
ADDICTIVE: Associate professor Peter Adams says New Zealanders had an innocuous relationship with gambling until pokie machines were introduced in the 1990s.

The profits from those benign forms of gambling were used to fund community ventures.

But things took a sour turn in the 1990s with the introduction of pokie machines, he says.

"It's a very potent form of gambling which is highly manipulatable.

"The expansion occurred very quickly in the 1990s and there was a 10-fold increase in consumption."

According to Dr Adams, the money rolling in from gambling grew from about half-a-billion dollars to more than $2 billion a year - almost half of which comes from pokies.

Community organisations such as sports clubs can receive about a quarter of their funding from pokies, he says.

"We've got a really tricky situation that's developed, because the government and community are wanting so much money out of problem gamblers and we've established this relationship which I think is pretty unethical."

There are about 1055 slot machines in central Auckland pubs and clubs.

There are a further 1647 machines in SkyCity Casino.

Between April and June the proceeds from gaming machines in Auckland city totalled $18,045,341.

The societies set up to distribute funds are required to give a minimum of 37.12 per cent of the profits from non-casino pokie machines back to the community.

"A lot of organisations would probably see themselves as trapped and dependent on this funding source, and uncomfortable with this, but unwilling to rock the boat," Dr Adams says.

"But arguably some of that money is coming from people who are suffering.

"I'm wanting to research that area a lot more because it seems interesting that people are uncomfortable but they feel they can't do anything about it."

He is also interested in finding ways to get more health practitioners discussing addictions with their patients, as well as strengthening support for affected families.

Dr Adams, who is the head of the School of Population Health, will conduct much of this research under the umbrella of the university's new Centre for Addiction Research.

Director Janie Sheridan says the centre undertakes research into the harmful use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and gambling - looking at public health policy, social research and clinical research.

Its researchers have backgrounds in medicine, pharmacy, pharmacology, nursing, public health, sociology, psychology and law.

Dr Adams says the centre will help connect the different aspects of addiction research, from the molecular level through to global trends.

"It will give us more recognition internationally and nationally in terms of the different work that we do," he says.

Auckland City Harbour News