Having such a high record for the production of problem gamblers is not something officials in New Zealand are proud of. Local government has taken substantial action recently to invoke gambling reform and reduce the number of poker machines in the region. But if the actions uncovered by the ONE News investigative team are any indication, those efforts may be for not.
The five casinos located throughout New Zealand have always been given more leeway in gambling activities than smaller pubs and hotels. They host many more machines, pay lower tax rates and are able to offer an array of perks for customers. SkyCity Casino Auckland has performed so well that it’s undergoing a major expansion that is set to include the installation of hundreds more pokies on its gaming floor.
In exchange for such conveniences, the New Zealand government requires casinos to invoke strenuous responsibility campaigns to thwart problem gambling. SkyCity employs what it calls the Host Responsibility Programme, and it’s one they are very proud of. But according to ONE News, casino staff is failing to meet the requisite demands of the programme, and the Department of Internal Affairs isn’t too happy about it.
The media outlet conducted an undercover investigation by sending in an actor, Chris Mundell, to play the pokies. Her role was to play the machines the way a typical problem gambler might. She kept to herself, playing alone for a total of 10 hours, only taking breaks to get more money from the cashier and eventually losing hundreds of dollars before the session ended.
These are all tale-tell signs of a gambler with a problem; signs that should have triggered an alert to the casino. But not once did a single member of the staff attempt to stop Chris, asking if she wanted to take a break or suggesting that she leave, as the 51-page Host Responsibility Programme mandates.
After witnessing the results of the investigation, Maartyn Quivooy from the Department of Internal Affairs responded, “Given the scenario we have some concerns about that… Someone playing for long hours should be approached, offered a break or asked if they want to leave.” But the actor received no such ques.
Internal Affairs was even more troubled by the fact that the cashier had no reaction to the gambler’s repeated attempts to withdrawal money. A $40 withdrawal was declined, as was an attempted $30 and $20 withdrawal. Instead of addressing the situation, the cashier said, “The lowest we can give you is $10… you want to try again?”
Appropriate action was almost taken at that point when the cashier visibly identified the need to intervene. She picked up a small card that gives information on problem gambling, but never attempted to give it to the patron. Instead, she hands over the $10 withdrawal so that Chris can keep playing.
Peter Dunne, Minister of Internal Affairs, said the casino should be held accountable, but SkyCity maintains no wrong doing in the matter.
SkyCity said it is very proud of its “world-leading, best practice Host Responsibility Programme”, and insisted that protocol was followed every step of the way. The casino even defended the cashier’s actions by claiming she fully “intended” to give the card to the player.
The media outlet was denied a live interview with anyone from SkyCity Casino, but statements pointed to the fact that Chris had taken multiple breaks during her time at the poker machines. It failed to mention that all but one of those breaks was to secure additional money to gamble with.
Internet Affairs intends to have a long discussion about the incident with the heads of the Auckland casino to find out why this happened, and “see what steps they will take” to rectify the lapse in host responsibility.
This is not the first time SkyCity Casino has been in hot water over failing to identify and address problem gamblers. Last year, ONE News conducted a similar investigation where four separate actors/players were never approached by casino staff. This latest investigation was a follow-up to see if the casino had resolved the issue. Evidently it did not.