Free bus enticing problem gamblers, say critics

AARON LEAMAN AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 05:00 16/07/2012
DEMAND: SkyCity has been accused of targeting the vulnerable with its twice-weekly bus.
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
DEMAND: SkyCity has been accused of targeting the vulnerable with its twice-weekly bus.

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A free twice-weekly bus service enticing Tauranga pensioners to gamble in Hamilton has been panned by those who say not enough is being done to help problem gamblers.

SkyCity is in the spotlight after revelations the casino's bus service from Tauranga to Hamilton has been bumped up to twice a week in response to increasing demand.

SkyCity began the trips several years ago but growing patronage has seen the casino bus service go from once a week to operating on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The Problem Gambling Foundation has raised red flags over the practice and accused the casino of targeting the vulnerable.

Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said the bus service was inducing people to gamble, adding it raised further questions of SkyCity's host responsibility programmes.

Some bus users admitted they were problem gamblers.

SkyCity has defended the service saying no bus users are obliged to gamble or even enter the casino once in Hamilton.

Casino general manager Arthur Pitcher said the service was no different from courtesy buses organised by pubs.

But Kihikihi man Roger Taylor, 79, said not enough help was available to problem gamblers.

Mr Taylor, a member of the worldwide movement U3A (University of the Third Age), said he had seen first hand the devastating effects of gambling addiction.

"I have an acquaintance in Queensland who can't go past a place with pokies without going in," he said.

"It's an insidious addiction. People talk about problem gambling but nobody really explains the signs of it to people.

"SkyCity might say people on the bus don't have to visit the casino but they're not putting this bus on for philanthropic reasons, they're doing it because there is money in it.

"If you have something like a free bus service taking people to the casino there needs to be safeguards in place and the safeguards have to be completely independent of the casino."

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- Waikato Times

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