The prime-time TV trick that’s encouraging gambling addiction in NZ

JackpotCity gets around NZ laws to advertise on television in a scheme that grooms gamblers, including the young and vulnerable. Authorities need to show the moral muscle to tackle it, writes Paula Snowden.


Read Don Rowe’s investigation for the Spinoff here


JackpotCity has navigated its way around our laws and its getting away with it. When an online casino is able to advertise on prime time national television enticing viewers to “discover a world of incredible casino games”, we should all be very concerned.

The law in New Zealand around online gambling is clear. Only NZ Lotteries and the TAB can legally operate online gambling in this country and while Kiwis can gamble on overseas sites, the advertising of those sites to Kiwis is prohibited under the Gambling Act (2003).

The people at JackpotCity are laughing all the way to the “Bank of Gibraltar”, and are managing to bypass the law by advertising JackpotCity.net which is a “free to play” site; all perfectly legal according to the Department of Internal Affairs.

But here’s the rub. As the Spinoff revealed last week, you are one click or one Google search away from a pay-to-play casino gambling site.

As Don Rowe describes in his article, the gambling site looks exactly the same as the “free to play” site; the same purple hue, the same logo, the same glitzy Auckland city view – yes, it’s Auckland, complete with the Sky Tower.

The big difference of course is that the “pay to play” site offers you NZ$1600 and a “free” ticket into the world of online casino gambling, possibly completely oblivious to the fact that you are not protected by New Zealand law because you are gambling on an international website.

We call sites like this “grooming” sites because that’s exactly what JackpotCity is doing with its “free to play” website. It’s grooming people, quite possibly young or vulnerable people, to pour money into a gambling website. Whether JackpotCity is grooming its players, operating like a Trojan horse, or behaving like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, if it looks like gambling, acts like gambling and smells like gambling, it is gambling.

When we contacted the DIA last year we were told that as JackpotCity is advertising a “free to play” website, “this means that it is not advertising gambling, as gambling requires the paying of consideration and the seeking to win money”.  Alongside that, we were advised that there wasn’t a breach of any of the advertising code provisions either.

But what about the ethics and morality? Gamblers, and particularly young or vulnerable gamblers, are being put at risk of developing gambling problems and potentially losing considerable amounts of money as the free to play site acts as a gateway to JackpotCity’s gambling site.

Don Rowe’s experience when he signed up to JackpotCity adds fuel to this blazing fire. The persistent phone calls from his “new friend Connor” from the promotions department of “the casinos” really alarmed us. Despite Rowe stating that he was concerned about his gambling, he was coerced by “Connor” into continuing to gamble and encouraged to “make a deposit in the next 24 hours”.

Gambling on an international site makes you vulnerable to exploitation and it is outside the jurisdiction of New Zealand law – a law that has harm minimisation and controlling the growth of gambling as two of its core purposes. That means there is no consumer protection or host responsibility standards as you would expect in a physical casino or gambling venue environment based in New Zealand. And as Don Rowe found out, it’s very easy to lose your money but not so easy to cash out your money if you have won and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You may well ask, along with many other concerned New Zealanders that have contacted us, among them the parents of children who have become hooked, how this can possibly be allowed to happen?

Mediaworks notes that it is broadcasting the JackpotCity advertisements during “adult only-rated programming, between restricted hours” and that “advertisements that are aired are not in breach of New Zealand laws and guidelines around advertising”. That doesn’t mean they’re not screening during films that begin at 8.30pm, which clearly are going to attract younger viewers. We surely need to consult a moral compass as well as a technical one.

Online environments are often fraught with great risk. Next-generation gambling products should be scrutinised and regulated in the same way as developments in drug, alcohol or smoking products are – in fact any product with a proven level of harm to society.

They are a present day problem and we need to address the gap that JackpotCity is exploiting.

Let’s just hope this Trojan horse hasn’t already bolted.

Paula Snowden is chief executive officer of the Problem Gambling Foundation of NZ.


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