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WHO KNEW? Smoking ban brings drop in gambling
The New Zealand Herald
By Juliet Rowan
The amount of money New Zealanders are spending on gambling has fallen for just the second time in 25 years, with the anti-smoking law partly behind the trend.
Spending on the main forms of gambling - racing, poker machines, casinos and Lotto tickets - fell 0.6 per cent last year to $2.02 billion. In 2003-04 the total was $2.03 billion.
One of the sharp falls was in casinos, where spending fell 2.5 per cent to $472 million for the year ended June, figures released yesterday show.
Sky City Entertainment, which runs casinos here and in Australia, blamed the decline in gaming revenue at its Auckland casino on the smoking ban, delays in introducing new ticketing technology and construction of a new room above the main gaming floor.
Spokesman Paul Gregory said the impact of the smoking ban was expected to abate this year and become minimal in 2007.
"It just takes a little while for people to come back, in the way it took them a while to get used to flying without smoking," he said.
Internal Affairs gaming policy manager John Markland said it was only the second time in 25 years that total spending had fallen from one year to the next.
"More significantly, it is the first time that either non-casino gaming machine spending or casino spending has dropped," he said.
"This is important because we know that gaming machines, including casino gaming machines, are the most harmful form of gambling."
In 2004, more than 80 per cent of people who sought help for gambling said their main problem was non-casino gaming machines. About 8 per cent said casino gaming machines were the problem.
Mr Markland said the drop in gambling spending was the result of tougher compliance and monitoring regulations introduced under the Gambling Act 2003.
The smoking ban complemented the new legislation, he said.
But a 48-year-old Christchurch woman who gave up gambling four months ago after incurring huge debts said the smoking ban did nothing to stop her addiction to poker machines.
The woman, who did not want to be named, said she and most of the compulsive gamblers she knew were smokers.
"Those of us that have destroyed some, if not all, of our lives because of gambling never let the fact we could no longer smoke deter us from our path of self-destruction."
The woman said the ban had possibly stopped people who played pokies to "an affordable and recreational level", but not compulsive gamblers.
"We are there only to play the machines and get so wrapped up we can play for hours without smoking."
The Problem Gambling Foundation agreed that gambling was still a problem.
"Gambling expenditure is down, but there is still too much carnage from gambling harm," said chief executive John Stansfield.
"New Zealanders are currently losing over $2.8 million per day, and these levels are unsustainable."
The Gambling Helpline, which receives 200 new calls a month from people seeking help for problem gambling, agreed, saying it and other services reached only 10 per cent of the estimated 50,000 problem gamblers in the country.
But the Charity Gaming Association said the decline had negative implications because about 20 per cent less money was available for community grants in the last six months.
The only gambling sector to grow was racing and sports betting, which bucked the trend with a 3.3 per cent increase.
The Racing Board said the increase was because of growth in various areas, including Wednesday harness racing and fixed-odds betting.
Internet betting on the TAB website grew 19 per cent from 2004.
Auckland Racing Club ambassador Bridgette O'Sullivan said new race meetings had encouraged first-time punters to the course.
She said betting profits helped the club to improve facilities, increase stake money and benefit the more than 30,000 people employed in racing.
"In a roundabout way, it keeps the industry alive."
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