Gambling addiction services lacking

JOHN EDENS IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 15:00 19/03/2014
Pokie Machines
ADDICTIVE: Associate professor Peter Adams says New Zealanders had an innocuous relationship with gambling until pokie machines were introduced in the 1990s.

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Accessing pokie machines and casinos in Central Otago and Queenstown is easy - finding help when gambling becomes a problem is not, as John Edens discovers.

Counsellors say a lack of services for problem gamblers and people who need addiction-related help in Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago is ''outrageous''.

Addiction services for drug abuse, alcoholism and problem gambling are funded by the Southern District Health Board and the Ministry Health, and run by the Salvation Army and Nga Kete but these organisations struggle to meet demand.

Queenstown and Central Otago districts are small in terms of national gambling habits, number of venues and machines but demographics, particularly in Queenstown, are changing.

The Salvation Army in Queenstown offered a gambling support service through its Oasis arm but that stopped more than a year ago when a contract expired.

Earlier this year in the Queenstown District Court the Probation Service said there was no dedicated gambling counselling available in the resort, although there were a handful of ad hoc services.

In addition, one of the few services for drug and alcohol counselling in Queenstown, Invercargill-based Nga Kete, had a 13-week backlog of appointments and, at the end of last year, deferred all Department of Corrections referrals until the waiting list cleared.

Nga Kete chief executive Tracey Wright-Tawha said gambling and addiction services were available in Queenstown from the Southern District Health Board and Ministry-funded Nga Kete.

Most of the organisation's work in Queenstown was drug and alcohol-related for Nga Kete's two-day a week service.

The backlog before Christmas was cleared, she said.

''That's around a funding capacity issue, we would like to be doing more work there but that's what we can do. Just before [Christmas] we had a 13-week waiting list, that's just Queenstown and the majority of those would be for drug and alcohol-related issues.''

Addiction services were funded by the Ministry of Health and the Southern District Health Board's remit also covered problem gambling, although a problem gambling-specific service was unavailable.

There was an argument for a five-day a week service for drug, alcohol and problem gambling but it was a difficult area to investigate.

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''It's really difficult to quantify the need for a gambling service.'' 

''People can get into a lot of trouble because it can be quite a hidden addiction. But we would think with two casinos in Queenstown... there should be a higher awareness of problem gambling.

''Our perspective is we believe we could provide full-time counselling addiction support services. We would need to be funded. We don't like a having a waiting list.''

Dunedin-based Salvation Army gambling case worker Chris Watkins said it was at least a year since there was any Queenstown-based gambling addiction service although phone counselling was available.

The organisation tendered for a new Ministry of Health contract and was waiting to hear the outcome, he said.

''Unfortunately the Ministry of Health have been dragging their knees over finalising the contract so there's been a delay.

''It's outrageous Central Lakes doesn't get any services. There's a high proportion of pokie machines in rural areas. We're fully aware there's a gambling problem in Queenstown, we have two casinos [and pokies], clearly there's going to be addiction. We are doing better but we are aware of the need for counselling services in these areas. It's throughout Central Otago, there just doesn't seem to be the organisation, it's been neglected I think.''

Salvation Army Queenstown Hine McDonald said private counselling was available and she referred anyone in need of help but there was no longer a walk-in or support service.

''I think Wakatipu struggles for it. We're very cut off and I think we could do with a lot more help.''

Problem gamblers can be given ''multi-venue exclusions'' effectively banning them from casinos and pokie venues and a levy is imposed on operators to apportion a percentage of funds for the Ministry of Health to run services.

The Dunedin-based Southern Trust is one of the five largest gaming trusts in New Zealand and its Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes venues include Blacks Hotel, Ophir, Albert Town Tavern and Frankton Arm Tavern.

Chief executive Karen Shea said the trust was required to provide staff training and information inside venues on problem gambling.

Across the gaming trust sector millions of dollars were allocated for a Government levy - currently $55.3 million across three years - to help fund gambling harm reduction.

She said funds were allocated by the Government to the Ministry of Health to help fund contracts and service providers.

''Queenstown, it's growing all the time. It's rate just can't keep up with the infrastructure.''

A Ministry statement said a request for proposals to run problem gambling services was completed last year.

''The Ministry is currently completing the proposal evaluation and selection phase. It is anticipated that the new service contracts will commence with effect from July 1.''

The Gambling Helpline - 0800 654 655 Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand - 0800 664 262

Fast facts

Excluded gamblers:

Sky City Queenstown

2012: 24

2013: 15

Sky City Wharf (previously Lasseters)

2012: 23

2013: 16

Dunedin Casino

2012: 56

2013: 51

Gaming machine proceeds July to September 2013

Central Otago: $819,371 (0.03 per cent)

Queenstown Lakes: $674,302

Gaming machine venues and numbers:Central Otago: 14 venues/126 machinesQueenstown Lakes: 11/107

Total venues/machines NZ: 1343/17,320

 

- The Southland Times

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