Gambling think tank debating technology’s role in addiction

22 Feb, 2010
Gambling think tank debating technology’s role in addiction
Professor Max Abbott

Rapid advances in technology are having a significant impact on gambling but international experts are in Auckland today (Feb. 22) debating whether the net impact will be positive or negative for gambling addiction.

Professor Max Abbott, AUT University pro vice-chancellor and dean, says the internet and related developments are Janus-faced, with potential to good or ill.
“They could greatly increase gambling-related problems or help reduce them.
Online gambling makes it highly accessible and in some instances harder to police, for instance identifying problem gamblers, but there are also positive indications for online treatment of gambling addiction.”
The impact of new and emerging technologies on gambling and gambling-related harm is the main focus of the international gambling think tank. Ethnic and cultural factors will also be considered in relation to treatment, research and public health.
Professor Abbott said two-thirds of New Zealand adults gamble and most do so in moderation.
However, he said an estimated 50,000 experience significant problems and this has flow-on effects for many more people through crime, family abuse and neglect, financial strain and reduced work productivity.
Professor Abbott has recently completed a study with Australian colleagues that assessed the impact of electronic gaming machines on problem gambling. It incorporated the findings of 34 previous studies and found that increased availability of machines was strongly linked to problem gambling. Overall, there was almost one new problem gambler for each additional machine.
The study also found, when machine numbers were held constant statistically, that there was a reduction in problem gambling prevalence over time.
“Communities and individuals can adapt and change the way they react to gambling. For example, in New Zealand attitudes have changed and fewer people gamble regularly on electronic gaming machines and other high risk forms of gambling.”
Professor Abbott said significant problem reduction is likely to require both reductions in exposure to gambling and measures to strengthen individual and community resilience.
He said one of the major challenges is to find ways to reduce problems among Maori, Pacific and some recent migrant communities.
Surveys show these groups have continued to be at very high risk for the past 20 years while problems have reduced in some other groups. Professor Abbott said part of the explanation may be that gaming machines are most heavily concentrated in lower income neighbourhoods.
According to Professor Abbott research from Sweden suggests on-line gambling could soon grow rapidly in New Zealand and poses a serious public health threat.
He said new and emerging technologies enable player tracking and interventions that could prevent problems from developing and assist early detection and treatment.
Professor Abbott said New Zealand is world leader in the gambling field and was the first to introduce a comprehensive public health approach to gambling. It has also broken new ground in research and service provision.
The International Think Tank on Gambling Research, Policy and Research is being held at AUT University on February 22 & 23. It brings together gambling researchers, officials and regulators, industry executives and service providers from around the world to share identify and progress ways to better understand and reduce gambling-related harm.
The International Think Tank is hosted by AUT University and the Gambling Helpline and runs ahead of this week’s International Gambling Conference 2010. “Gambling in the 21st Century – the Implications of Technology for Policy, Practice and Research.” Crowne Plaza Hotel 24-26 February 2010.