We’ve all heard of the covert ‘Mystery Shopper‘ exercises performed by governments and consumer services organizations. You never know when or where they will strike, but the results can be embarrassing, or worse, for business operators found to be in non-compliance. Such was the case for most New Zealand pokies venues.
According to a joint press release from the Salvation Army and Problem Gambling Foundation, the results of a 2016 mystery shopper exercise were disappointing at best. The exercise was performed by the Department of Internal Affairs, examining the host responsibility practices of non-casino gaming facilities.
According to the report, New Zealand pokies venues aren’t holding up their end of the regulatory bargain. The exercise included 22 clubs—none of which were found to meet the standards for host responsibility. Of the 120 non-clubs (pubs) that were analyzed, only 12 passed.
Among the Key Findings for Class 4 Gaming venues (non-casino pokies venues), the DIA report concluded:
In the class 4 sector a low number of venues met expectations (eight per cent), but many more met the partial expectations (33 per cent). Fifty nine per cent of venues did not meet expectations.
There were pockets of good practice which largely came when strong signs of gambling harm were presented to staff.
New Zealand Pokies Venues Require Improvement
Lisa Campbell is the National Operations Manager for the Salvation Army Oasis Centre for Problem Gambling. She’s held this position since 208. In all those years working with pokies venues, Campbell says she has seen some improvement, but that there are many more pubs and clubs where significant improvement must occur.
“For too long, people with gambling problems have been hidden and stigmatised making it difficult for them to acknowledge their own harmful gambling and get support,” said Campbell. “Venue staff need to understand their duty of care and support their patrons to get help.”
Of utmost concern were New Zealand pokies venues situated in low income and high spending areas. In these regions, just 59% of pubs and clubs met social responsibility standards.
This was especially disconcerting to Problem Gambling Foundation CEO Paula Snowden. “These are our struggling communities where there are high numbers of pokie machines and money coming out of the pockets of those who can least afford it,” said Snowden.
“This is where pokie venues need to be particularly vigilant with their host responsibility,” she explained.
“Venues and pokie trusts need to be reminded that it is a legal requirement to minimise the risks of harmful gambling,” she continued. “And staff are required to be trained in harmful gambling awareness.”
The mystery shopper exercise was conducted in late 2016, with the full report published in June 2017. The DIA concluded that “improvements have been made in how gambling venues prevent and minimise harm but more can be done.”
The purpose of the exercise was to provide a snapshot of how well venue staff in pubs, clubs and casinos identified and responded to signs of harmful gambling.
The DIA conducted its first mystery shopper exercise in 2014 as part of an overall analysis of the gambling sector. The goal of these activities is to improve the prevention of harm and promote a “culture of care” in New Zealand pokies venues.