Do you remember the folk tale about Chicken Little, ‘The Sky is falling’? It’s the story where Chicken Little believes the world is coming to an end.
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) recently released new data showing that there has been another increase in spending on pokies in New Zealand for the last quarter, and questions have been raised around why this is happening despite a decrease in pokie machine numbers.
Pokies and the Gambling Act
After 2004, when the Gambling Act was in full effect, the amount of money spent on pokies started to decline, and has been trending downwards ever since.
But the news says pokie spend is increasing?
Looking at pokie trends
Looking at reports from year to year gives you a better picture of the rise and fall of annual expenditure. For the past two years, it has been rising - 2015 was higher than 2014, and 2016 higher still. However, those are only two data points in what is a generally downward trend.
It will be several more years before we know for sure whether this recent rise is a new trend or a fluke.
How can the expenditure rise at all, if the number of machines is decreasing?
We know that people with gambling problems generate a disproportionate amount of pokie expenditure - Australian research estimates it could be as much as 60%. The recent National Gambling Study found that people who use pokies more often have longer play sessions. The more often you play, and the longer your play, the more money you will lose to the machines (and the more likely you are to have or develop a gambling problem).
So if a small number of people are playing a small number of machines but are generating a larger portion of expenditure, you can't guarantee the numbers of pokie machines and the expenditure spent on pokie machines will change at the same rate.
That isn't to say that reducing the machine numbers doesn't help. Research shows that having easy access to pokies is a key factor in developing and maintaining a problem with pokie gambling. This is why the Problem Gambling Foundation supports a "sinking lid" gambling policy, which are in approximately 17 districts across New Zealand. A ‘sinking lid’ policy means no new licenses for pokie machines can be issued, and pokie machines cannot be transferred to a new pub or owner if the venue closes. Reducing availability is one way that we can help reduce gambling harm.