Problem gambling a significant health issue

20 August 2015

Problem gambling continues to be a significant public health issue for more than 40,000 New Zealanders, according to new research from the University of Auckland.

A report on adult gambling that analysed data from the 2011/12 New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS) was published by the University of Auckland and UniServices this week.

“The report showed that about a half (52 percent) of all adults aged 15 years and over had gambled on at least one activity in the last 12 months [of the study],” says senior researcher, Dr Fiona Rossen from the Centre for Addiction Research at the University of Auckland.

The overall proportion of people who had gambled on any activity in the past 12 months had significantly decreased with each wave of the NZHS.
“While no significant change occurred in the prevalence of moderate-risk or problem gambling, the proportion of non-gamblers significantly increased and the proportions of non-problem/recreational and low-risk gamblers significantly decreased,” she says.

“A substantial proportion of the sample reported some gambling-related problems with about 1.2 percent of the adult population, or an estimated 43,400 adults, meeting the criteria for moderate-risk/problem gambling (1 percent - moderate-risk and 0.2 percent - problem),” she says. “A further two percent satisfied the criteria for low-risk gambling.”

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Health to explore the impacts of gambling and problematic gambling among adults in New Zealand and to identify risk and protective measures.

“This report reiterates that Electronic Gambling Machines (EGMs), both in and out of casinos, are associated with the most harm from gambling and that Māori, Pacific people and those living in neighbourhoods with higher levels of deprivation are disproportionately affected by problem gambling,” she says.

“The most popular gambling activities were Lotto and associated lottery products (45 percent),” says Dr Rossen. “Less than ten percent of adults had gambled on EGMs, track or sports betting, casino gambling (EGMs and/or tables), Keno, housie and ‘other’ in the previous year.”

“EGMs were found to be particularly high-risk with regard to the development of gambling problems: moderate-risk/problem gamblers were 14 times more likely to have gambled on any EGM and 13 times more likely to have gambled on non-casino EGMs than non-problem/recreational gamblers,” says Dr Rossen.
“Problem gambling went hand-in-hand with other potentially addictive behaviours - it was significantly associated with the use of alcohol, hazardous drinking behaviour, alcohol dependence, smoking, and use of recreational drugs,” she says.

People with gambling problems were also more likely than other adults to suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders and to report poor health and wellbeing.
The effects of problem gambling were widespread with about 2.5 percent, or 89,100 adults, indicating that they had been negatively impacted by someone else’s gambling in the past 12 months.

Non-casino EGMs (53 percent), casino EGMs (32 percent) and track/sports betting (22 percent) were the modes most associated with harm from someone else’s gambling.

The study also compared the last three waves of the NZHS and found a number of significant changes over time.

For media enquiries email s.phillips@auckland.ac.nz