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Possible SkyCity suspension: “I just don't want to see anyone else put themselves in debt the way that I did”

22 September 2023
The announcement about the possible suspension of SkyCity’s licence for up to ten days was a hot topic and dominated the headlines earlier this month.
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How did this all start?

The investigation into SkyCity Casino began with a complaint from a former gambler, alleging that they could gamble uninterrupted for extended periods:

From ‘Former addict alleges she gambled for up to 18 hours at SkyCity without intervention from staff’:

"You became someone important, someone pampered by SkyCity, and you started to live the champagne lifestyle," she said. This lifestyle included rewards like cash, accommodation, and concert tickets while gambling in the VIP area known as the Black Room. She became addicted and admitted to gambling continuously for lengthy periods, stating, "My longest in Auckland was 18 hours."

Another former SkyCity casino customer disclosed his pokies addiction was so severe that he would avoid breaks, even avoiding drinking to prevent trips to the restroom, claiming he routinely played for seven to eight hours straight without any staff intervention.

"I just don't want to see anyone else put themselves in debt the way that I did, and it took many years to clear it by swiping out most of your money from your account."

What did the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) recommend regarding SkyCity's license?

The DIA recommended suspending SkyCity Casino's license for up to 10 days due to concerns about the casino's compliance with its SkyCity Auckland Host Responsibility Programme, specifically in detecting continuous play by customers.

How significant is this?

Andree Froude from the Problem Gambling Foundation, stressed the importance of the DIA's recommendation. She noted, "I've been in this role for 14 years, and in that time, I have never seen the Department take such a strong step." This action by the DIA is unprecedented in New Zealand.

What is the link between continuous gambling and the risk of gambling problems?

Research in New Zealand indicates that individuals who gamble for three or more hours on casino pokie machines are nearly four times more likely to become moderate or problem gamblers compared to non-pokie gamblers. Given this evidence, there is a strong recommendation to re-evaluate the current 5-hour continuous play timeframe.

What will the Gambling Commission do next?

The Gambling Commission will assess whether to issue a license suspension order for SkyCity Casino and, if so, the duration of the suspension. This process may take several months before a decision is reached. SkyCity Casino has committed to fully cooperate.

Is there any other impact on SkyCity from this?

Yes. Even the potential suspension of SkyCity’s casino licence spooked investors, with the bombshell announcement wiping a quarter of a billion dollars off the company’s market value on the share market within hours of the announcement.

What are the broader implications of gambling harm, especially in Asian communities?

Kelly Feng, the chief executive for Asian Family Services, highlighted that gambling harm is a significant issue for Asian individuals, often accompanied by a lack of awareness, knowledge about support services, or reluctance to seek help. Research shows that Asians are nearly ten times more likely to be affected by gambling harm compared to mainstream New Zealanders.

"Often they are not only suffering from gambling problems, but also mental health issues, alcohol or drug abuse, or domestic violence," Feng said.

How prevalent is online gambling in Asian communities?

A 2022 survey by Asian Family Services revealed that 84.6 percent of Asian respondents engaged in online gambling or video game activities in the past year. This includes activities like buying lotto, playing online video games, betting at the TAB, participating in social casino games, and gambling on SkyCity's online casino. The survey also found that problem gamblers accounted for 13.8 percent of respondents, with the majority being of Indian descent.

Feng emphasized that migrants, including international students, often face employment and social pressures that can lead to gambling as a coping mechanism, and stressed how important it is for institutions like casinos, the TAB, clubs, and pubs to take responsibility by providing information on gambling harm and ensuring those in need receive assistance.

I've been in this role for 14 years, and in that time, I have never seen the Department take such a strong step.”