Mystery shoppers are people that visit New Zealand casino floors to protect players from the addiction to gambling. These mystery shoppers were used for the first time in New Zealand in 2016 and since then are active at the various Kiwi casinos, clubs, and pubs. Recently the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) has made its first prosecution under the Gambling Act where the manager of a gambling venue has been charged for failing to take reasonable steps to identify a problem gambler. The charge, which comes with a maximum penalty of $5000 and a criminal conviction. This is the first time a person in New Zealand has been charged for failing to identify a problem gambler.
The main role of Mystery Shoppers
As gaming venues in New Zealand have a responsibility to protect their players. Staff members have the training to spot problem gamblers and encourage them to seek help. This can be a tricky rule to regulate, so the Department of Internal Affairs has come up with quite a novel plan. At casinos, clubs, pubs, and hotels in New Zealand, the DIA placed mystery shoppers on the gaming floor. Their goal was to be on the lookout for staff carrying out the important task of recognizing signs of problem gambling and doing something about it.
Under the 2003 Gambling Act, New Zealand casinos are legal with six casinos operating in five cities, and the public is also able to gamble on machines in pubs and hotels across the country. These establishments are tightly regulated and operators are supposed to spot problem gamblers and help them seek recovery.
The recent mystery shopper survey indicates that casinos have a “good standard of host responsibility and culture”, but the picture was less positive at pubs and hotels where only 41% of venues met expectations. It is the venue in the lower areas, and the study demonstrates the need for significant improvements.
Mystery shoppers at casinos
With over 110 gaming venues in New Zealand; this means that less than 50 had staff serving customers the way that they were supposed to.
The mystery shoppers would have to display signs associated with stress. It includes sighing, talking to the game, and even asking cashiers for more money so that they could continue playing. The study using mystery shoppers indicates that there is a lot that we should do in terms of promoting responsible gambling in pubs and hotels across New Zealand.
Some of the mystery gamblers sat at pokie machines for hours without intervention and took out cash on multiple occasions while saying scripted lines that hinted at the problems they were facing. In a statement, the country’s largest casino, SkyCity, says staff had “actively engaged with the ‘mystery shoppers’ on a number of occasions, and that they were clearly providing a safe environment for customers.”
The Methods used by Mystery Shoppers at the Casino
At pubs and hotels or class 4 venues where there is a mix of urban and rural. It is also a mix of size, the shoppers gambled for two hours (generally during the day); and displayed general problem gambling indicators such as sighing, head resting on hands, talking to a machine, expressing frustration.
They observe the sweeping of pokie rooms by staff and other patron behaviors. They role-play and re-create one of the following scenarios while withdrawing $20 cash from a staff member by saying:
- “I need to go but I need to win some money back “ (used in 77% of scenarios)
- “I can’t really afford it but I think I’m getting close to a win” (used 16%)
- “I’m meant to get home to the kids but another few minutes won’t hurt” (used 7%)
Interventions that DIA expected to see staff use is questioning whether it was a good idea to withdrawal the money. Asking if the person is OK or Suggesting they take a break or Providing problem gambling information to the person or Suggesting they leave the venue or Asking them about their gambling.
5 Scenarios carried out by the Mystery Shoppers
- Length of play: 10 hours of play – no problem gambling indicators displayed.
- Length of play: 10-12 hours of play plus problem gambling indicators displayed while playing gaming machines.
- Frequent cash withdrawals from the cashiers – with problem gambling indicators displayed while playing gaming machines.
- Frequent cash withdrawals from an ATM– with problem gambling indicators displayed while playing gaming machines.
- Setting gambling spend limits / pre-commitment – with problem gambling indicators displayed while playing gaming machines.
The exercise focused on behavioral indicators of potential problem gambling; rather than casino use of gambling data generated by carded players. (Carded players are those with casino loyalty-type cards). All New Zealand casinos have a Host Responsibility Programme and Problem Gambler Identification Policy (the Policy). It also has the approval of the Gambling Commission. The Policy sets out a selection of “Strong Indicators” and “General Indicators” of potential problem gambling. The casino staff recognizes these signs. There are requirements to record all observations made. The Department set out to test the casino’s response to the “General Indicators”. The General Indicators tested (which are set out under various headings in the Policy) include:
Intensity and Frequency of Play; Very few breaks from gambling – almost continuous play; Visible Emotional Disturbance; Visible emotional disturbance such as agitation, holding head in hands, personalizing machines, rudeness and complaints to staff about gambling outcomes; Excessive Access to Money; Repeat ATM visits and/or multiple declined transactions; Dysfunction in Social Behaviour, Claims of malfunction of gaming machines or gaming errors.
Responsible Gambling at Online Casinos
As most of the kiwi punters choose to play pokies at online casinos; there are responsible gambling tools to help at-risk players. It is a definite advantage to playing slots in the digital world. Time limits, deposit restrictions, self-exclusion, and reality checks are some of the mechanics online gamblers have at their disposal. Also, players can easily access their account information to keep track of their spending. It will also ensure that they are not exceeding their budgets.
Whether you’re at risk or not, DIA always recommends making use of these tools. Ensure that you set a reality check time limit to let you know exactly how long you’ve been playing. It will not allow you to get carried away. A deposit limit or a fixed bankroll is also a good idea if you lose track of time.