Coronavirus: TAB still trading online during lockdown as Kiwi punters at their most 'vulnerable'

Here's what you can and can't do while New Zealand is on lockdown, under Level 4 alert for Covid-19.

New Zealand might be in lockdown but at a time when problem gamblers are at their most vulnerable, the TAB and online gambling sites are open for business.

Taking bets is not an essential service but despite government advice - under level four of the Covid-19 scale - stating "only businesses absolutely essential to ensure the necessities of life"  can operate, the TAB can trade online because it can run its business with staff working remotely during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Lotto is also available online only and overseas gambling and gaming websites are not restricted by New Zealand law despite it not being illegal for Kiwis to use them.

All TAB sites are closed but betting is still available online.
All TAB sites are closed but betting is still available online.

With hundreds of thousands of Kiwis off work, unable to leave home, with excess spare time on their hands, PGF services (formerly Problem Gambling Foundation) spokesperson Andree Froude is calling on all online gambling services to step up their host responsibility.

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"For people who struggle with addictions things like this ... stress, anxiety, this is a trigger for people who are susceptible," Froude said.

Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) head of public affairs, Ian Long, confirmed to Stuff that all TAB locations were closed on Monday, corporate offices are also now closed, with staff working from home where possible but betting options were still available via their website, touchtone phone and mobile apps.

Online gambling sites could make Kiwi punters vulnerable to problem gambling during the lockdown.
Stacy Squires/STUFF
Online gambling sites could make Kiwi punters vulnerable to problem gambling during the lockdown.

"We're certainly concerned about the safety of people because at the moment New Zealanders are all very vulnerable as we're all in isolation," Froude said.

"This isn't just about host responsibility, it's about social responsibility.

All TAB outlets were closed on Monday but punters can still bet online.
All TAB outlets were closed on Monday but punters can still bet online.

"Online gambling is obviously so accessible for people when we are at home and all living our lives online, we really want to see them step up with their protection, especially for vulnerable people."

Froude reassured the public that free and confidential PGF services were 100 per cent open during the four-week lockdown because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Face to face counselling sessions were not available but counsellors working from home were doing phone, video and email interactions for those needing support, she said.

Froude praised the New Zealand TAB for posting a Covid-19 update encouraging customers to check in on their personal situation to make sure their gambling was just for fun but said there was no guarantee of overseas websites doing the same or punters taking the advice.

"Those are things that are not mandatory and usually somebody who is in the grips of perhaps a gambling problem or they're spending too much time or money gambling online, often they won't set their own limits so at times like this it's really good to have a mandatory limit," Froude said.

"We do need to protect the vulnerable and at the moment there's a lot more of us vulnerable out there because of our situation."

The TAB and Lotto are the only forms of licensed online gambling in New Zealand and have legal obligations around host responsibility but there is nothing to stop Kiwis gambling on overseas sights online.

Lotto has spend limits in place and the TAB has multiple layers of support for anyone concerned about their gambling on their website.

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Froude would like to see all online gambling sites introduce mandatory spend and time limits, especially when people all over the world were so vulnerable because of the lockdown periods caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

"I know in the UK there are people calling for mandatory spend limits for online sites over this time when everybody is so vulnerable.

"I think making them mandatory would be a really good step in the right direction.

"And other protective factors because it's a risky time for people.

The TAB website also has provisions to set limits, decrease limits and take a break from your account to prevent gambling for a period of time.

"But once you go outside of New Zealand and you're gambling on sites that are international, that's quite different.

"Some of the bigger international operators are more likely to provide perhaps a phone call or something to somebody but not necessarily."

Froude reiterated that not just gamblers can reach out to PGF services. Support is also offered to people who may need assistance because of the gambling of someone close to them.