Problems with problem gambling

MARIA SLADE
Last updated 08:45 28/03/2014

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OPINION: When I was growing up in Wellington's windswept western suburbs our next-door neighbours were Salvation Army members.

They were lovely. She made wedding dresses and chatted to my mum at the clothes line. He was equally sweet except for his proclivity to start his lawn mower under my bedroom window at an indecent hour on a Saturday morning, as he raced through the chores before Sunday's day of rest.

The other thing we knew about them was never to go knocking at their door selling the school raffle. Salvation Army people don't believe in gambling, my parents patiently explained.

As I got older I understood that Salvation Armyists were to be admired because they put their money where their mouth is. They abstain from alcohol and gambling, and they minister to those afflicted by addictions to both.

What they do not do is agitate, a trait which is apparently appealing to the current Government.

Problem Gambling Foundation (PGF) chief executive Graeme Ramsey says people can draw their own conclusions as to why the agency has had three-quarters of its funding cut, with the likely loss of a similar number of jobs.

Despite robust political and gambling industry harrumphing to the contrary, it does not seem to be drawing a particularly long bow to presume that the PGF's opposition to the expansion of the SkyCity casino, its exposure of pokie rorts and support for the Maori Party's gambling reform bill had something to do with the funding bombshell.

The Salvation Army is the beneficiary of the cuts and is set to gear up its services. But with just 18 problem gambling staff currently compared with the PGF's 63, services will be severely disrupted by the changeover at best.

It's really very hard to ignore that this comes from an administration which did a $400 million pokies-for-convention-centre deal with casino operator SkyCity.

Unlimited magazine is currently involved in a series of forums with small businesses on what sustainability means to them.

As one participant put it, the idea that being sustainable means painting something green is "very 2000s". Now firms understand that it is a much more 360 degrees view of their operations - considering sustainability of governance, the workplace, marketplace, community, as well as the environment.

The subject of the gaming industry came up, and how it struggles daily with the issue of children downloading its games. Following cases in the US where companies have been forced to reimburse parents after their children spent hundreds of dollars on mobile gaming without their knowledge, the industry is hyper-aware about putting effective parental control measures in place.

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The ethical conundrum of entertainment versus addictive exploitation is seemingly not one which troubles our Government overly. In the second decade of the 21st century as businesses wrestle with how to make respectable profits and be accountable to their communities at the same time, here we have a Government which feels able to downplay the harm gambling addiction causes with the stamping of a shiny convention centre deal.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says the problem gambling services sector had developed in an ad hoc manner with duplication of services, hence the review. There is no doubt truth in this, but he's been in politics too long if he thinks New Zealanders believe that's the whole story.

If the PGF was getting too big for its political boots why not negotiate with it about splitting the organisation into clearly delineated advocacy and services provision arms, instead of vengefully whipping the carpet out from underneath it?

The PGF is reportedly considering a High Court challenge to the funding decision. I say go the PGF.

*Maria Slade is editor of Unlimited magazine. maria.sladefairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Fairfax Media

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