Problem Gambling In New Zealand – Your Definitive Guide

Image credit: Nik Shuliahin/UnSplash

Whilst for most people, online gambling and roulette is fun and harmless, for some people gambling has serious consequences. It’s really important to understand what it means, what to watch out for, and where to get help. Read on to find out more about gambling issues in NZ.

What Is Problem Gambling?

Wikipedia defines problem gambling as “repetitive gambling behavior despite harm and negative consequences”. It’s worth remembering that problem gambling doesn’t just affect the gambler – it also affects their loved ones, family and friends. It also affects things like finances and work, not to mention mental well-being and self-esteem.

Ultimately it’s when gambling is at a stage way past it being fun or exciting. Problem gambling is incredibly destructive and disruptive.

Problem Gambling In New Zealand – At A Glance

Image/chart credit: Ministry Of Health NZ
Image/chart credit: Ministry Of Health NZ

What Are The Warning Signs Of Problem Gambling?

The warning signs that may show someone is a ‘problem gambling’ include:

  • Trying to reduce the amount of gambling but not being able to
  • Playing with more money than you should (i.e. outside of your ‘bankroll’)
  • Borrowing or even stealing money to gamble with
  • Not finding it fun any more but feeling compelled to gamble anyway
  • Lying to people about your gambling
  • Your relationships being affected
  • Your work being affected
  • Mental health issues like irritability, anxiety or anger
  • Being in denial about your issues
  • Feeling like gambling has taken over your life
  • Continually chasing losses

There are tons more. The signs can manifest in very different ways from individual to individual.

What Causes Problem Gambling?

The causes of problem gambling are varied but include:

  • A need or perceived need for more money
  • Chasing the ‘high’ of winning
  • Losing money then repeatedly trying to win it back
  • A reliance on gambling to relieve issues like boredom, frustration or loneliness
  • Hereditary factors (an interesting study here)

Again, everyone is different. Some people may be chasing the ‘big jackpot’ to pay off debts or fund a big holiday.
Others are just bored and want the buzz of a win. – sometimes to the extent of it dictating their level of self-esteem.

Whatever the cause, it’s vital to recognise the signs quickly, and get help as soon as possible.

Where Can I Get Help In New Zealand?

Luckily there are many organisations that help problem gamblers from New Zealand. These normally operate at a regional level providing help to residents in that specific area.
Problem Gambling Foundation

The PGF is a fantastic organisation providing support and help via various channels. This is offered not just for the person who is having issues, but also for people who care about them and want to help. I’m particularly impressed by their ‘resource‘ area which covers tons of areas you might not even have thought about – for example editing your Facebook ad settings.

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army run ‘Oasis‘ which is somewhere you can get support for anyone worried about gambling harm. Oasis can find services and therapies for you, with self-exclusion, and many others. They have centres in many parts of New Zealand.

Gambling Helpline – Māori

This is a freephone support line (0800654656) offering support via Māori counsellors. It’s open 24/7.

Debt Gambling Helpline

This is specifically for people that have debts as a result of problem gambling. They’re super supportive and can help with things like budgeting, finding counselling and tons more. Contact them on 0800654655, again 24/7.

Find a full list of services here.

What Is Self-Exclusion?

Self exclusion is where someone chooses to exclude themselves from gambling. It’s voluntary and is initiated by the gambler. The Gambling Act 2003 allows anyone to basically ban themselves from going into a casino, or any venue like a pub that might have pokie machines.
You can choose to do this for a single venue, or utilise ‘Multi-Venue Exclusion‘ to do self-exclusion in bulk.

The Gambling Act 2003 allows any person who wishes to do so to exclude themselves from entering the gambling area of a casino or any pub, club or hotel with pokie machines.”


For online self exclusion it’s different – you’ll need to ask each online casino you have an account with to prevent you playing.

It’s worth pointing out that you may feel embarrassed or ashamed when you approach companies for this. There’s no need to feel that.
All gambling companies and casinos are familiar with self-exclusion. It’s actually in their interests to prevent problem gambling.
So you’ll find they’re all very sympathetic and supporting with these requests.
If it helps though, have a friend or partner with you when you make the call, for moral support.

Problem Gambling Statistics & Facts

Some key figures around problem gambling in New Zealand:

  • 76,000 people are considered at high or moderate risk of harm from gambling
  • 142,000 are considered at low risk of harm but have potential of being high risk
  • According to the Ministry Of Health Data Explorer, around one in 40 adults are problem gamblers or moderate risk.

Is There A Test For Problem Gambling?

Yes, tests for it are available from a few sites:

What To Do If You’re Struggling

The first thing to do is to talk to someone. Remember – tons of people have had gambling issues and come out the other side OK.
By talking to someone (whether that’s a friend, family or professional), you start acknowledging there’s an issue.

Once you’ve done that it’s a matter of finding the right support. Remember that what’s ‘right’ for you might not be for someone else.
So take some time to discover the services you can access.
Also take advantage of some of the discussion forums on the topic – for example GamCare, Gambling Therapy and PsychForums.

There you can (anonymously) ask for advice and also give it. The forums are full of people just like you who are at various stages of their gambling issues.

Finally, remember you are not alone. Your friends, family and loved ones will want to help and support you – reach out to them.

What Kind Of Treatments Are There?

Gambling addiction can be handled in many ways. it’s easiest if you think of it as a journey rather than quick fix.
Often that journey will be made up of practical solutions, combined with therapy.

As an example, something pragmatic would be self-excluding, as I’ve mentioned above. Whilst this won’t fix everything, it will at least make gambling a lot more difficult.

Of course, the problem there is you’ll still want to gamble!

This is where counselling, therapy and support services come in. These will have varying approaches and it’s worth finding out more so you can choose one that suits you. This may involve:

  • Getting to the boottom of why you gamble
  • Finding what other things you could replace it with (that are positive)
  • Assesing any relationship issues
  • Looking at your finances and debts
  • Suport groups (both in person and online)
  • Counselling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Gambler’s Anonymous

Somewhat controversially, some doctors are trying Naltrexone prescriptions for problem gambling. This is a drug designed for alcoholics and drug addicts. And it’s now been tried for gamblers. I’ve yet to hear of this being done much at scale, although a 2018 study showed some promise.

Obviously with any treatment, especially medication – talk to a medical professional before starting it.

FAQs About Problem Gambling

Is problem gambling a disorder?

Yes, it’s considered a disorder as it’s behaviour in a repeated pattern demonstrated by their loss of control, gambling even if there are negative outcomes, and constantly thinking about gambling. ‘Gambling disorder’ is also called ‘compulsive gambling’ and ‘problem gambling’ – they’re all basically the same thing.

How do I deal with a gambling problem?

There are a few ways for problem gamblers to get help. Probably the start is to recognise and acknowledge there’s a problem. Then the ways forward include:
1) Therapy – counselling, psychotherapy
2) Support groups (in person and online)
3) Self-exclusion
4) Finding other activities that are pleasurable
5) Handling stress better
6) Understand and deal with your triggers
7) Talk to your family, friends and loved ones for support

Can I report someone who has a problem with gambling?

No – as they’re not doing anything illegal. You can however get help and input from one of the various helplines or organisations who can give you ideas of how to help the person you’re worried about.

What are some signs of problem gambling?

There are many, including: playing with more than you can lose; taking out debt for your bankroll, and selling belongings to gamble.
It can manifest itself in your behaviour – for example being anxious, stressed or angry.
Another common sign is finding gambling having no pleasure to it any more.