Since the 1980s, the remote islands of New Zealand have experienced a sharp growth in their gambling rate. With the government's recent approval of the expansion of SkyCity Auckland casino, it is forecast that the rate will continue to increase at what some consider to be breakneck speed. In May 2013, Auckland's SkyCity casino announced it would install a convention center worth over $400 million in exchange for an increase in slot machine and table game capacity.
The casino currently offers over 1600 slot machines, or "pokies," and over 100 table games. The increase will buoy the casino's pokie total to 1877 and its table game total to 150. While some New Zealand residents are excited about the increase in casino offerings, others fear that the change will cause the country's rate of problem gambling to spiral out of control.
New Zealand's Gambling Landscape
The islands of New Zealand, with a population of approximately four-and-a-half million people, currently offer six casinos to citizens. These are the casinos at Christchurch, Dunedin, and Lasseters Wharf, along with three branches of the SkyCity in Auckland, Hamilton, and Queenstown. In addition to its six standard casinos, the islands offer opportunities for lottery participation and sports betting. Lottery is regulated by the New Zealand Lotteries Commission. Sports betting is overseen by the New Zealand Racing Board. In spite of all of these options, the country's most popular form of gambling continues to be the pokie machines. Pokies, styled just like American slot machines, are found in local clubs and bars as well as casinos.
Revenue Aids Local Communities
New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs regulates all wagering in the country. The resulting revenue is distributed in a way that supports local communities. In 2008, gamblers spent over $2 billion on pokies and other venues. The fiscal year ending in June 2008 saw over $10 billion spent on pokies alone, with a revenue return of just under $1 billion to local communities.
Why New Zealand's Problem Gambling Foundation Frowns Upon the SkyCity Expansion
New Zealand's Ministry of Health funds the country's Problem Gambling Foundation. Members of this foundation are concerned that the government's recent support of the SkyCity Auckland expansion might lead to an increased rate of problem gambling in the country. They also cite rising jackpots and the general increase in betting opportunities within the country as a dangerous temptation for citizens.
Not all gambling leads to personal ruin, and not all gamblers have what is considered to be a problem. "Problem gambling" may be defined as excessive wagering behavior that is out of control in a way that causes personal harm, financial or otherwise. It is estimated that up to four percent of any given population could have a genuine impulse control disorder that leads to this problem (read more). While this percentage may seem small, the Problem Gambling Foundation fears that an increased number of lives will be negatively impacted by the greater availability of pokies and table games at SkyCity Auckland's new convention center.
Questionable Visa Regulations Contribute to Suspicion
Critics of the expansion say the New Zealand government has nothing but money on their minds, with no regard for the financial and emotional health of the country's citizens. Furthermore, they criticize the government for making special provisions which would allow wealthy Asians to more easily visit the convention center. These questionable changes in foreign policy only deepen critics' mistrust of the New Zealand government and their motivations.
Another Side: Why SkyCity Auckland's Expansion is Helpful, Not Dangerous
While members of the Problem Gambling Foundation fear that the SkyCity deal could inflate wagering problems in the country, others feel the new agreement will actually reduce the incidence of problems. That is because, in spite of the convention center's increased draw for gamblers, the casino also plans to increase its monitoring of potential addicts. In addition, the casino plans to provide a way for gamblers who think they might lose control to put a cap on their spending before they even begin.
Slot Machines With a Conscience
New slot machines and games at the Auckland casino will electronically broadcast how many minutes a patron has been playing and how much money has been wagered and lost. Patrons also will have the opportunity to voluntarily set a limit on how much they can lose. This practice is called a "voluntary pre-commitment." Once a predetermined loss limit is reached, the patron would be cut off from the pokie machine or game table.
Like many other areas of the world, gambling in New Zealand is expanding with help from the government. One of the primary reasons for this is that, in today's depressed world economy, the derived revenue can actually benefit local communities, including struggling school systems and other non-profit organizations.
There is no question that people enjoy visiting casinos, and the SkyCity Auckland situation would be win-win if it weren't for the fact that some humans have the potential for an impulse control disorder which leads to problem gambling. This problem can lead to extreme financial ruin, social devastation, and a host of health problems. The fear of such devastation has put some critics on red alert.
While organizations like New Zealand's Problem Gambling Foundation oppose the expansion of SkyCity Auckland because of this fear, others feel that going to a casino is a personal freedom that should not be limited by others. While it is true that as many as four percent of people in a population could fall prey to the ills of problem gambling, they argue that it is not fair to the remaining 96 percent to yank leisure opportunities away from them.
One thing is for certain: the gambling business is booming in New Zealand. Only time will tell if the SkyCity Auckland expansion is a good or bad deal for citizens.