Friday, March 21, 2014


The NZ Problem Gambling Foundation has been effectively defunded after a Ministry of Health review recommended dumping Gambling Foundation services in favour of the Salvation Army. The membrane between state and religion grows ever thinner, and there's a weird funk in the air.

Let's get this clear at the get go. It's not that I wish to pick a fight with the Salvation Army. I have had their Bell Gully law jockeys pissing in my ear on a Friday afternoon when I'm getting my drunk on before. Captain Buzzkills, for sure.

I'd just like to know why the Problem Gambling Foundation was dropped after a long and respectable history, and whether it was the Sallies' tax exempt status that helped undercut the tender for rehab and support services. Unfortunately, the only evidence being presented so far is a series of black boxes.

When casinos were first legalised in NZ, the Casino Control Authority set many conditions on licences. One of those was a gambling levy, which would be funnelled directly towards NGOs funded to be the casinos' nemeses. Some kind of watchmen duality would keep the system in check for the public good.

The NZ Problem Gambling Foundation was a product of this levy. Over the next 20 years, it provided a secular national service for problem addicts, and provided the Problem Gambling literature that casinos must by law have visibly displayed in their premises. The advocacy was separately funded through donations, and worked to minimise problem gambling at the source, through supply control of the gambler crack of pokie machines.

In contrast, the Salvation Army is a more generalised provider of government welfare services; a bit like Serco, the private company behind the Auckland Remand Centre and new Wiri prison, but tax exempt through religious status (The Seventh Day Adventists do the same thing with Sanitarium. Don't get me started on Jesus Freaks and breakfast communions. Suffice it to say, coffee and cigarettes is my rite).

So, after twenty years of internationally recognised excellence in treatment, research and lobbying (Sinking Lid? That was them), why have the NZ Problem Gambling Foundation lost their meal ticket? Well, no-one's saying.

The independent report by the Ministry of Health hasn't popped up. Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne did, on Checkpoint, where he failed to illuminate the why of it either. Nor did the Sallies, who weren't going into specifics. There was unfinished contract haggling to be had yet, and the whole deal was commercially sensitive (My paraphrase, not a quote, m'lud). Unfinished business indeed.

The Ministry of Health is feeling pretty damn sure that the God botherers can improve on the precedents set by the Problem Gambling Foundation. Faith-based even. And which secular NGO is the next to get gobbled up by the Salvation Army's market share and scales of economy?

It's a new monopoly. Pass God. Collect $200.