Lotto urged to drop plans to launch online bingo game over fears of increasing ‘risk of harm to Maori and Pacific communities’

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As online gambling could be done easily and in secret, it was “strongly associated” with problem gambling. “So you’ve already put two problematic or potentially risky behaviors together.”

Bellringer said bingo also figures strongly as a social, cultural and fundraising activity in Maori and Pasifika communities.

“I really think making bingo highly accessible by bringing it online is going to increase the risk of harm to Maori and Pacific communities,” she said.

Maori are three times more likely to be moderate-risk or problem gamblers than non-Maori and Pasifika 2.5 times more likely, according to the Health and Lifestyles Agency’s 2020 Survey. health promotion.

Bellringer was interviewed as part of an RNZ lotto investigation, which unearthed hundreds of pages of official documents from the state gaming company.

Among these documents is Lotto’s submission to Interior Minister Jan Tinetti, asking for permission to launch the game.

In the brief, released under the Official Information Act, Lotto chief executive Chris Lyman acknowledges that some communities are more vulnerable to gambling harms.

“Lotto NZ acknowledges the research and data showing that Pacific peoples, Maori, certain Asian communities and low-income people disproportionately experience the harms of gambling,” it wrote.

“We know bingo is a familiar game among New Zealand’s Pasifika communities and is embraced for socializing, entertainment and one-time fundraising efforts.”

To “better protect Pacific Islanders from the potential harm of gambling”, Lotto would include bingo as a “topic of discussion” in its responsible gaming program for that community.

“With regard to Bingo, Lotto NZ will also ensure that our games do not have features that specifically or deliberately appeal to Pasifika communities – for example, via theme design or artwork on Bingo games.”

Under the Gaming Act, Minister Tinetti has veto power and has put Lotto’s online bingo plans on hold as she considers a review of the entire online gaming sector, which exploded in recent years.

Lyman is frustrated with the delay, according to minutes from a June 2022 Lotto stakeholder meeting.

“Lotto has a Bingo product ready for use, but the Minister has suspended it pending the review of online gambling,” Lyman said. “Lotto is disappointed that the review of online gaming has not progressed further, which is hampering Lotto’s ability to move forward. We need up-to-date legislation.”

The minister told RNZ that she was fine with the idea.

“I’ve always had harm minimization in mind. I’ve seen too many gambling issues. I’ve seen too many families who have been hurt and hurt,” she said.

“I have been quite open with Lotto that I will not make any decisions regarding online bingo until we have reviewed the entire online gambling regulatory regime.

RNZ’s Lotto investigation revealed major gaps in the company’s strategy for engaging with Maori and Pasifika communities.

Lotto’s business documents show that in 2021 only one in 174 employees was Maori.

“I’m not proud of it,” Lyman told RNZ. “It is not good and we are not happy with this situation. It will not be an easy solution, but we are committed to fixing it.

Lotto also set up an expert advisory group with no representative from Pasifika, a shortcoming the group itself acknowledged at its first meeting in October 2019.

Minutes of the meeting show that the panel informed the company of a “possible shortcoming in not having any members specifically representing the perspective or voice of the Pacific or Asian communities, the Pacific Community being considered particularly vulnerable.

The documents show that as of March 2022 he was still looking for a Pasifika representative for the panel, although Lotto said that has now been resolved.

Lotto has known for many years that its safe gambling messages are not reaching the communities most at risk of harmful gambling.

An August 2021 Lotto Corporate Social Responsibility memo reveals that the company has conducted research into the effectiveness of its safe gaming resources, called Play Smart.

“The key takeaways were that current Play Smart materials do not resonate with Pasifika communities,” the document states.

The chief executive himself acknowledged “the need to do better in managing harm minimization with the Maori and Pasifika communities”, according to the minutes of a September 2020 lotto stakeholder meeting.

Despite these shortcomings, Lotto is eager to launch Bingo online.

Lyman told RNZ that New Zealanders were already playing the game on offshore websites and it would be safer for them to play the version of Lotto – which would also bring some of that money back to the community.

“It’s a game that Kiwis are playing through unregulated offshore sites. It troubles me. I think we could provide that service to these New Zealanders onshore, for a regulated site where there are damage controls.” , Lyman said. “We’re not trying to create a market here. There’s already a market. Hundreds of thousands of Kiwis are playing Bingo offshore.”

Lotto’s submission to the Minister states that online bingo “provides a commercially attractive potential player base which would enable us to maximize profit growth for the contribution to New Zealand communities”.

Lotto hopes to make $25 million in the first year, capturing 25% of New Zealand’s existing online bingo market, which it says will generate an additional $2.7 million to distribute as lottery grants.

The submission states that the maximum jackpot at any bingo hall would be $100,000, which would position it as “a small maximum jackpot game”.

He says using a risk assessment tool, called Gam-Gard, would put his online bingo game “in the lower end of the medium risk range”, and with additional safeguards could be reduced to a “low risk” product.

Lotto expressed concern about the growth of offshore gambling and estimated that New Zealanders spent around $510 million on such sites in 2020.

The Home Office (DIA) said offshore gambling was a key part of the online gambling review – a three-year project it had just handed over to its minister, Jan Tinetti.

“Compared to most other forms of gambling in New Zealand, we have virtually no control over how harm minimization standards apply to people who gamble online,” said Suzanne Doig, Director general of DIA policy, at RNZ.

Lotto’s security measures for online gambling include spending limits of $150 per week and $500 per month and restriction of playing hours between 6:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. (until midnight on Wednesdays and Saturdays) .

But Lotto also wants to expand its online offerings beyond Bingo.

In the company’s submission to the Online Gambling Review, it stated that it wanted to introduce online casino games.

Doig said the DIA had not received an official request from Lotto for this, but would have concerns because “online casino games are the riskiest form of online gambling”.

She questioned “whether it is appropriate for Lotto – as a Crown entity, as a state gambling provider – to venture into the riskier end of the market”.

Tinetti said reducing harm from online gambling was a “key priority” in his portfolio.

“I’m very concerned about online gambling in general and lotto is definitely part of that,” she said. “We don’t want to be the fun police. We know people enjoy engaging with these providers. But at the same time, we want to make sure that we don’t create a situation where people experience more harm.”

Lotto has offered online gambling since 2008, but sales have surged in recent years, from 19% of total sales in 2019 to around 45% today.

About 1.4 million people now have an online Lotto account, up from 845,000 in 2019.

RNZ

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