Maori gambling problem could grow

10:01 am on 18 December 2015

Maori are far more likely to be problem gamblers than other New Zealanders, according to a new Ministry of Health report, and the problem could grow.

Gaming machines.

Photo: RNZ

Maori and Pacific Islanders make up half of all problem gamblers in New Zealand, but a new Ministry of Health report shows Maori are also less likely to overcome a gambling addiction than other New Zealanders.

The report, which measured 2013 data, showed that 78 percent of adults took part in at least one gambling activity in the year.

According to the figures, Maori are three-and-a-half times more likely to be problem gamblers than other adults. In 2013, 1.6 percent of Maori fell into that category, compared to 0.3 percent of Pakeha.

Auckland University of Technology professor Max Abbott said it could get worse.

"People of Maori ethnicity are also more likely to continue to have problems" he said. "Looking into the future, it means that the difference between ethnic groups could increase."

Prof Abbott said Maori were more likely to live in areas awash with electronic gaming machines, TAB venues and alcohol availability.

He called it a "double whammy" for vulnerable people and said strategies were needed to better target Maori for assistance.

Researcher Ruth Herd said gambling also made it harder for whanau to escape those environments.

Her research examined the impact of gambling on Maori youth and she said the report showed a bleak outlook for rangatahi.

"It is kind of putting a negative prophecy on them that I don't really appreciate. That just increases the stigma and discrimination that is already there."

Ms Herd said it was that stigma that stopped people from seeking help, which could be why the rate of problem gamblers would not budge.

She was also concerned that gambling was used in a cultural setting, such as fundraising for marae initiatives by running raffles or playing bingo or housie.

"We need to send a message to our communities and marae that making gambling a fundraiser could potentially increase the problem for people later on."

But gambling prevention worker Ants Hawke from Auckland health organisation Hapai Te Hauora said such forms of gambling connected people with whanau.

He said the problem was that these days the human connection was lost.

"Historically we did fundraising for marae and tangi ... we don't really have that same connectivity as we did when playing bingo. We now have that connectivity with a machine. Now that machine is in every pocket in the world," he said.

Mr Hawke said examples should be taken from groups like the Okahu Watersports Club, which won't take funding from gaming machine trusts because of the harm that pokie machines can cause in the community.

He also wanted to see iwi take a more active role in creating strategies to reduce gambling harm in their rohe or region.