Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

What Do We Know about Gambling in New Zealand?

Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

What Do We Know about Gambling in New Zealand?

Article excerpt

Abstract

A public health approach to gambling policy depends upon careful socioeconomic analysis to guide resource allocation to education, information provision and treatment. This paper argues that existing research does not provide the required factual basis for such an approach, yielding conclusions that are either inconclusive or inconsistent in crucial areas, because it tends to be aimed at exploring pathology not social processes. We conclude that a better research agenda must be based on studies that explore gambling in its social and economic context.

INTRODUCTION

The Gambling Act, which was passed into law in September 2003, was a direct output of the Gaming Review. The Act is intended to incorporate a "public health approach" to gambling policy (Korn and Shaffer 1999, Ministry of Health 2002). Such a policy approach depends, however, upon careful socio-economic analysis to guide the allocation of resources to education, information provision or treatment. Without a firm factual basis, the public health approach is a warmed-over version of the status quo.

As a step towards developing such an approach this paper questions whether existing research provides the required factual basis. We find that it does not and in fact yields conclusions that are either inconclusive or inconsistent in crucial areas. The main reason for this shortcoming is that existing research is aimed at exploring pathology not social processes. Moreover, even on its own terms, it is seriously flawed.

We conclude that a different research agenda must be followed if the public health approach to gambling policy is to improve policy outcomes. That agenda must be based on studies that explore gambling in its social and economic context.

THE PUBLIC HEALTH APPROACH

Although the Gambling Act 2003 does not define "public health approach", the approach has been the subject of considerable discussion amongst practitioners and policy makers for some time (Bunkle 2000). It is based on the realisation that unless treatment regimes take account of the social dynamics of gambling, they are unlikely to be successful. Worse, pathology-based treatment providers are likely to actively deny the existence of wider social and economic problems as they compete for scarce resources with other investigators. This may lead to the harmful socio-economic effects of gambling being ignored or untreated.

The public health approach focuses on populations, not individuals, and seeks to base response on socio-economic factors and to encompass mental health issues. It is so named because it seeks to place gambling in a framework that is safe for individuals and not disruptive to society at large. A public health approach to gambling is one that accounts for, and addresses, the costs and benefits of gambling accruing to both individuals and communities. It aims to develop strategies that minimise the negative impacts of gambling while nurturing any possible benefits.

A public health approach to gambling policy, therefore, seeks to promote healthy and responsible gambling behaviours among all members of society and does not aim to single out those addicted to gambling. Healthy gambling involves making informed choices and can enhance the wellbeing of gamblers and the community. The public health approach is characterised by being holistic, widely available, based on socioeconomic research, controlled by the community and provided through community-based institutions (Bunkle and Lepper 2002). Therefore, for-profit casinos (both virtual and physical) and unlimited access to pokies are inconsistent with a public health approach to gambling.

THE NATURE OF GAMBLING

Information

There are three main sources of information on gambling in New Zealand. First, there are administrative collections in which data are collected in processes ancillary to taxing, licensing or treatment. …

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