Problematic gambling agencies are criticizing a plan by Christchurch Casino to launch an online gambling platform out of Malta, circumventing current New Zealand restrictions.
The new offshore subsidiary would be known as Christchurchcasino.com Limited and would partner with a licensed international gaming company, company chairman Bruce Robertson said.
Online gambling is on the rise, with experts warning of heightened risks for people who can gamble secretly and around the clock.
It is currently illegal to provide online gambling in New Zealand, with the exception of two licensed providers – Lotto NZ and TAB. However, it is legal for New Zealanders to gamble on offshore websites.
And changes that could allow online gambling platforms in New Zealand are expected to go to Cabinet before the end of the year.
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As a subsidiary, Christchurch Casino’s online operations would be banned from advertising in New Zealand under current law.
A spokesperson for Te Tari Taiwhenua’s Department of Home Affairs (DIA) said Christchurch Casino was believed to be the second New Zealand company to set up an offshore gambling site.
In 2019, SkyCity became the first New Zealand casino operator to launch an online casino, also based in Malta.
Robertson said the move was a defensive move due to the growth of online casinos at the expense of land-based casinos.
Christchurch Casino informed the DIA of its decision and held a meeting with officials. The company would not break any rules by moving overseas, the DIA spokesperson said.
However, the Christchurch-based Problem Gambling Foundation’s national services director, Bridgitte Thornley, said it was disappointing and concerning that the casino was using an overseas presence to connect.
It was cheeky to use “ChristchurchCasino” in the domain name as it would lead users to think it was a trustworthy New Zealand site, even though it would not be governed by neo rules. -Zealanders, she said.
Also, if people searched for the name of the online casino for opening hours or events, it would lead them to the website.
Online gambling is a growing problem affecting increasing numbers of people, she said, a problem that arises both at work and at home, where gambler mood swings can affect loved ones.
Maria Bellringer, an associate professor at the Center for Gambling and Addictions Research at Auckland University of Technology, said online gambling was always more harmful than gambling in a casino.
“It can be done 24/7 and in secret. It’s unlikely there’s surveillance there or people who can monitor if someone is playing for a long time,” she said.
Questions about why children are allowed to gamble as pressure mounts on the government for laws to prevent children from buying lotto tickets.
Those most affected by gambling were disproportionately those who could least afford to gamble, she said.
“They desperately need money to pay bills or buy food.”
Many foreign websites were unregulated, but it was possible to set up online gambling with strict host liability rules, including age verification and spending limits maximum, she said.
The DIA launched an online gambling review in 2019 with a view to developing “a safe and regulated online gambling system for New Zealand”.
It attracted nearly 3,000 submissions.
The Home Secretary was due to hand over a paper to Cabinet regarding the review of online gambling by the end of this year, the DIA spokesman said.
Thornley said she supports New Zealand legislation allowing online gambling to take place under strict regulations.
“I’ve heard several stories of people making money but not being able to get it because it’s a makeshift organization that was set up overseas.”
Robertson said Christchurch Casino’s online site would carry strong responsible gambling safeguards.
It would pay GST on all gambling by New Zealand residents and contribute to the Christchurch Casino charitable trust.
The company supported the minister’s push for an online gambling regulatory regime and hoped to see a legislative framework put in place in New Zealand, Robertson said.
He declined to comment on how online gambling has affected the operation of the Christchurch casino other than “significantly”.
Estimates from 2019 showed that up to $400 million a year is spent by Kiwi gamblers on unregulated foreign websites, of which around $180 million goes to online casinos.
Christchurch Casino made an operating profit of $16.5 million in the last financial year, according to recently released financial results from its parent company Skyline Enterprises.
Skyline Enterprises Group operations reported net income after tax of $35.7 million in fiscal 2022, compared to $56.7 million the previous year.