Hard News by Russell Brown

76

Taking a very big gamble

The Problem Gambling Foundation is to have its funding removed by the Ministry of Health, meaning that, with the exception of its Asian unit, the foundation will cease to exist from June 30. Given that the PGF is the largest single treatment organisation in Australasia (and possibly the world) and accounts for more than half of the whole sector nationally, it will leave a hell of a gap to fill.

This isn't the consequence of a funding squeeze -- the sector is funded from the Problem Gambling Levy on gambling activity -- and staff have been told there is no issue with the quality of services being provided. So why has it happened?

Trevor Mallard is claiming the foundation's public advocacy has made it "particularly unpopular with the Government and with the Ministry of Health, especially around the SkyCity [convention centre deal] stuff". If so, that would be beyond appalling.

It should be noted that the foundation doesn't lobby on the public dollar -- that part of its work is privately funded. But its overall approach, focusing on safe environments as a means of harm prevention rather than just on the individual gambler, is strongly opposed by the gambling industry.

Problem gambling services won't disappear -- the levy has to be spent somewhere -- and the most likely scenario is that the Salvation Army will fill the gap, aling with, perhaps a couple of Maori organisations. But the Salvation Army is a religious organisation and its approach is not suited to all those who need help.

The Ministry of Health has, I gather, been looking to consolidate services in the sector and perhaps that's legitimate. But the Problem Gambling Foundation currently offers free, confidential counselling services from more than 60 locations around the country. It's hard to conceive of the kind of efficiencies that would justify the wholesale disruption of a vital public health service that is suddenly only 12 weeks away.

UPDATE: The Salvation Army professes to be completely blindsided by the news it's to take over as national service provider in the wake of the Problem Gambling Foundation being defunded. And it all has to happen by June 30. It seems fair to call this a debacle.

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