April 10, 2024

Gaming Association in NZ calls for judicial review of new gambling regulations

Imagine being monitored for how many pokie games you are playing or for how much cash you withdraw from an ATM for gambling in New Zealand? Well, these are among the new gambling regulations that have come under the spotlight in NZ.

The New Zealand government is raising the stakes for venues with pokie machines and, unsurprisingly, has placed the brunt of the pressure on frontline casino workers. In addition to their everyday tasks, venue staff will take on identifying and intercepting gambling addiction.

In response, the Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand (GMANZ) has taken the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) to the High Court to dispute the regulations that took effect 1 December 2023. 

There’s no telling what it will be like in pokie venues from here onward, especially if the DIA regulations remain unaltered after Judicial Review.

Would you rather have pub and hotel staff keeping a close eye on you and writing down your name and mannerisms three times an hour, or would you rather log into a top paying online casino in NZ from the comfort of your home?

In this article, we break it down for you to make a better informed decision.

What is the GMANZ requesting from court

GMANZ has taken the DIA to High Court seeking a Judicial Review of the new regulations (of 1 December 2023) and the opportunity to alter them collaboratively. The proceedings aim to examine two main things – how much input was considered when creating the new rules and what these rules involve.

The new rules include watching all players closely in pubs and hotels and strict reporting of it. In addition, the regulation proposes that ATM and EFTPOS device withdrawals be monitored when patrons attempt to withdraw cash two or more time in one day to use for gambling at a venue.

“A recent independent KPMG report indicated that it is very difficult to accurately record why a customer is withdrawing money. Class 4 venues are pubs, bars, and clubs, it is not easy to tell what withdrawn cash will be used for. Two withdrawals in a day being deemed a sign of gambling harm may lead to incorrect assumptions.”

GMANZ Independent Chair, Peter Dengate Thrush

You’re not alone if the thought of a staff member questioning you about more than one ATM withdrawal makes you uncomfortable. Many of these regulations cross boundaries that society relies on for financial privacy and the ability to make our own decisions about how we spend our earnings.

All new regulations were to be enforced in class 4 venues which include pubs, hotels, and clubs with non-casino electronic gambling machines, better known as “pokies”.  Such vast measures forced upon NZ’s run-of-the-mill pubs are raising eyebrows and is largely seen as unreasonable.

According to the DIA website, the changes taking effect are as follows:

All venue staff who oversee gambling activities must undergo training. This replaces the previous requirement of having just one person (or more) trained in harm minimisation if gambling is available at the venue.

The personnel overseeing gamblers at the venue must receive training on the latest requirements, which should be conducted at least once a year.

Staff must administer at least three observations (sweeps) of the gaming machine area per hour, with 10-minute intervals between each sweep. These sweeps must be recorded by workers and reviewed weekly by venue managers.

If venue staff identify certain signs of harm in a gambler, it is their responsibility to have a conversation with them. The purpose of this conversation is to determine whether the player is a problem gambler. Venue staff must maintain a record of conversations.

New layout requirements for venues have been put in place to make it easier for the staff to monitor the ATMs from the main bar or service area. Additionally, the new layout ensures that the gaming machines are not visible from outside the venue.

Many of the workers in these locales are already dealing with an understaffed workplaces (like most hospitality industries in New Zealand). And, depending on the number of players on scene, could be juggling approximately 720 recordings a day, or about a quarter million per year, on top of other duties.

Thrush emphasised that when the former administration introduced the gambling rules, they were deemed inadequate in tackling gambling harm. GMANZ has historically preferred a cooperative effort within the industry, focusing on nationally accepted training and certifications for those overseeing gaming venues. 

GMANZ has also been pushing for the utilisation of a problem gambling levy funds to finance such training initiatives and to incorporate technologies like facial recognition to offer extra safeguards and assistance.

“The new regulations aren’t anchored in the reality of Class 4 venues (like pubs) or their staff who do the brunt of that front-line problem gambling reduction work. The regulator doesn’t seem to be listening to the industry and is instead spinning up unworkable regulations to justify itself.”

GMANZ Independent Chair, Peter Dengate Thrush

It seems that GMANZ and the DIA both have good intentions in moving toward a healthier New Zealand that can confidently combat gambling addiction both for land-based casinos and online casinos. The problem lies in their ability to work together while enacting solutions. No court decisions have been publicised on the matter as of yet.

It’s not unheard of for the government to make decisions that aren’t well-anchored to reality. The main pain point felt by industry professionals has to do with the DIA’s lack of understanding and inclusion of those working at the heart of New Zealand’s gambling machine problem.

“The way these new regulations were developed without proper consultation is a continuation of the way the government has treated those of us at the coal face.

Who are better to identify potential harm than the people working in the venues? Many of the proposed regulations pay lip service to harm minimisation – or may cause more harm – and are decisions made by technocrats who have zero experience inside Class 4 venues.”

GMANZ Independent Chair, Peter Dengate Thrush

It’s hard to imagine a bartender confronting loyal patrons about alcoholism, so what makes a gambling addiction any different? Should it be the responsibility of venue staff to take on such delicate territory when they’re just trying to do their job?

New regulation effective from December 2023, rather try out these NZ online casinos

Whether the Gambling Association of New Zealand and Department of Internal Affairs will be able to provide a better path moving forward, no one knows for sure. But seeing as the disputed regulations have already been set in motion as of 1 December, gambling enthusiasts should be prepared for a different environment in pokie venues moving forward. 

As important as harm reduction is in the gambling space, so is privacy and autonomy. Underpaid hospitality workers are not responsible for monitoring one’s relationship to gambling; only an individual and their loved ones can take on that burden. 

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There’s no telling what it will be like in pokie venues in NZ from here onward, especially if the DIA regulations remain unaltered after Judicial Review.

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