National study finds 'staggering' Maori and Pacific problem gambling rates

The 2016 Ministry of Health clinical gambling study is the first in the world to record the incidence of new clinical ...
Geoff Lewis

The 2016 Ministry of Health clinical gambling study is the first in the world to record the incidence of new clinical gambling problems in a population.

Maori and Pacific adults are five to eight times more likely to become problem gamblers than other New Zealanders, a new study has found.

The Ministry of Health followed 3000 randomly selected people over a two-year period and recorded how many of them developed clinical gambling problems.

It is the first longitudinal study of its kind internationally.

Lead researcher and AUT University Professor Max Abbott said the over-representation of Maori and Pacific problem gamblers was due to their increased exposure to electronic gaming machines and lower standard of living.

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"Maori and Pacific people, and also some other groups too, are much more likely to live in lower decile, more deprived communities, and that is where you find a much much higher concentration of pubs and clubs that have pokies," Abbott said.

"You look at something like pokies. The number of machines and the number of venues have been dropping for at least the last 12 years but even if you drop the machines by 50 per cent there's still plenty to go around.

"I mean I've never been to a gambling venue and seen people lining up waiting to get on the machines."

Abbott said the fact that Maori and Pacific adults were so much more likely to develop gambling problems was "staggering".

The National Gambling Study interviewed participants face-to-face for 50 minutes on three separate occasions over the course of 2013 and 2014.

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It found that New Zealanders of Pacific descent gamble less on average than people of Maori and European descent, but were at a high risk of developing a clinical problem.

"I think that's partly due to the fact many of them are recent migrants or belong to churches that are anti-gambling," Abbott said.

"They've only recently been exposed to these high-risk forms of gambling, so they're not experienced and the populations are vulnerable as are young people throughout the world.

"They haven't learnt ways of coping."

Abbott said at least 50 per cent of the people identified with a new gambling problem within the 2013-14 period were relapsing from a past problem. 

"That's very important because it puts very high emphasis on relapse prevention and that hasn't been a focus in terms of treatment."

The study also found that although men have a higher prevalence of gambling problems historically, the incidence of new cases over the two year study was equal between men and women.

New Zealanders of Asian descent were also three times more likely to develop a gambling problem than those of European descent.

Besides proximity to gaming machines, other risk factors for developing a gambling problem included: unemployment, stressful major life events, depression, having a problem in the past, and regular, high-risk forms of gambling such as pokies, casino games, and track betting.

Factors that protected people from developing a clinical problem while gambling were a high income and gambling with others rather than alone.

Within the entire New Zealand population 0.5 per cent of people have a clinical gambling problem, with a further two per cent experiencing less serious problems.

 - Stuff

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