Regulating Online Gambling

Default Profile ImageBen O'Connell
Regulating Online Gambling

Westpac NZ has introduced an account block to support customers who are struggling with online gambling issues.

From 26 June to 25 September 2023, Westpac customers spent $136.8 million with online gambling merchants, compared with $3.2 million spent at physical gambling locations in that period.

Nearly half of that online spending was with TAB and Lotto, with the remainder distributed among various online gambling businesses.

According to Te Whatu Ora, around 186,000 people in Aotearoa, New Zealand, are personally affected by gambling harm. 125,000 of them were likely to be experiencing at least some level of harm; 61,000 Kiwis were gambling with moderate or serious levels of harm.

Westpac customers can call the bank or visit a branch to request a gambling block, which will then be applied to all their credit/debit cards.

When the block is in place, customers can’t use their cards for online transactions with gambling businesses; the transaction will be declined.

The block doesn’t stop transactions at physical gambling locations, such as casinos or buying lottery tickets at retail outlets.

Once the block has been set up, it will stay in place for a minimum of three months before a customer can request to remove it.

Louisa Brock, Westpac NZ Manager of Financial Inclusion and Vulnerability, says Westpac has already received customer feedback that the block can make a difference.

“When the customer was told that we could put a block on their account to help them manage their spending, they jumped at the opportunity. The customer told our team that they were desperate to quit gambling but found it difficult to control on their own.

“Admitting you have a problem is a really brave thing to do. Letting customers know that the gambling block is available hopefully makes it easier for them to have those conversations with our teams, as well as empowering our people to best support our customers.

“As well as introducing the gambling block, we’ve trained our customer-facing teams to have constructive conversations with customers who may be struggling with gambling. Our people can also work with these customers to structure their accounts to limit gambling spend.”

While bank blockers are helpful and welcome, they are not simply solving the online gambling – and gambling outright – problem in New Zealand.

The Rise in Online Gambling

Kiwibank was the first bank to introduce a credit and debit card gambling block back in 2020. It meant gamblers could request blocks on their cards. The move came after data showed increased online gambling spending during coronavirus lockdowns.

Like Kiwibank’s optional restrictions, Westpac won’t block transactions in places like physical casinos. Where Kiwibank blocked users could ask for it to be removed within two days’ notice, Westpac’s blocks come with a three-month removal wait.

Kiwibank estimated that problem gamblers who had used their gambling blocker had been prevented from gambling an estimated collective $25 million since the block’s iteration.

New Zealand has a high rate of Internet penetration, where access to online gambling platforms is easy for a major portion of Kiwis.

Our regulatory environment has been evolving, too. While it’s illegal for overseas-based companies to offer online gambling services to New Zealanders, no laws are preventing Kiwis from gambling on offshore websites. This regulatory gap contributes to the increase in online gambling popularity.

Increased marketing and advertising efforts by online gambling operators also contribute to the rise in online gambling activity. In 2022, a media surge erupted as Christchurch Casino revealed it would launch an online gambling site out of Malta.

Malta is a favoured location for online gambling operators due to tax breaks.

The only restriction on off-shore operators is that they don’t advertise here, but some advertisements have notably appeared on websites such as YouTube, putting such regulatory power into question.

Government Regulations Welcomed

The coalition Government plans to regulate and tax online gambling to ensure fairness. Time will tell as to the extent of such regulatory and legal changes.

The government had confirmed a start date for online casino regulation of 1 July 2024, but details have yet to be finalised.

Australian politicians passed a law to ban the use of credit cards for gambling, which the Australian Banking Association applauded. The Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand has called for Kiwi lawmakers and leaders to follow suit.

SkyCity said in a media statement, “Requiring online casino operators to pay their fair share of tax and the new offshore gambling duty is a welcome first step towards a level playing field.”

“SkyCity looks forward to a regulated market, where harm minimisation is one of the primary objectives.”

Some fraudulent sites have advertised on social media posing as SkyCity, as one example, tricking users into thinking they’re gambling locally.

SkyCity established its online presence in 2019, using a Malta-based subsidiary to offer online casino gaming. Apart from Lotto and the TAB, online casino gaming was still not allowed in New Zealand.