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Study Links Gambling and Crime
 NZ Herald    Sunday October 22, 2000 

Researchers have found a clear link between problem gambling and criminal behaviour. In a survey of 100 "newly received" prisoners, 24 per cent scored within the range classified as probable pathological gamblers.

That is eight times more than a sample of the general adult population in 1992, and 24 times higher than the 1 per cent lifetime pathological gambling rate found in the most recent national survey.

Auckland University researchers Robert Brown, Peter Adams and Sean Sullivan, all from the department of behavioural sciences, said more than 40 per cent of the inmates identified as pathological gamblers reported a connection between gambling and their offending.

"One pathological gambler stated that all his gambling was done with stolen money.

"Another said he stole to keep his gambling 'solvent.'

"Yet another acknowledged that when he ran out of money needed for 'chasing' his losses, he would commit offences to get more money."

Dr Brown said the finding that one in four inmates had a serious gambling problem had important implications both for prison administrators and the continued growth of gambling in New Zealand.

"There are over 15,000 persons being imprisoned in New Zealand each year. If 24 per cent, or 3600, are probable pathological gamblers, the Department of Corrections has an opportunity and a responsibility to assist these individuals while in prison," the researchers said.

"Clearly, there is an opportunity here to reduce reoffending."
The authors of the study recommended that prisoners be routinely screened for gambling problems and those scoring positively be offered counselling.

The study was completed by the three university medical school staff and researchers from the department, following a number of overseas studies in the past two decades that had reported a high incidence of criminal convictions among pathological and problem gamblers.

Gambling had experienced unprecedented growth in New Zealand during the past decade, with Government figures indicating that industry turnover had risen from $1 billion in 1987 to $8 billion last year, said the university researchers.

That growth had resulted in financial, health and social problems for some gamblers and an increased prevalence of problem and pathological gamblers.

The 1988 legalising of electronic gaming machines had been particularly influential, with 75.2 per cent of problem gamblers who sought treatment reporting that the machines were their primary mode of gambling, the group said.

Maori were disproportionately represented among the pathological gamblers in prison. They were likely to have committed property offences to obtain money for

More than 80 per cent of the pathological gambling inmates in the study considered themselves to have either an alcohol or drug problem.
Disturbingly," several inmates said they favoured armed robberies because they provided bigger returns.
The researchers said they understood the Corrections Department was considering screening all new inmates for gambling problems as part of its assessment process.

"A brief problem gambling screen has been validated for the New Zealand prison environment as part of this research, and this instrument, together with the experience and resources of the Compulsive Gambling Society of NZ, are available to the department to help address this growing problem," said
the researchers.

The Government has ordered a review of gaming laws with hopes to have new legislation drafted by 2002. And the Gaming Law Reform Bill, introduced under the previous Government,
will be considered by Parliament soon.