What are Mystery Shoppers in New Zealand Casinos?

Mystery shoppers
Mystery shoppers

Mystery shoppers are people who 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 have been active at the various Kiwi casinos, clubs, and pubs.

Usually, this practice is followed when a new casino is introduced!

Who are Mystery Shoppers?

Mystery shoppers are undercover and trained people who act like gamblers at casinos. They pretend to gamble and display behaviours that suggest potential gambling addiction.

These activities include spending long hours at the machines, appearing agitated or anxious, and neglecting to set spending limits. These mystery shoppers aim to observe how casino staff respond to these signs. Ideally, staff would identify the potential problem and offer help or resources. This is all about checking whether the casino staff is actually doing their work to benefit players.

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 carries a maximum penalty of $5000 and a criminal conviction. This is the first time a person in New Zealand has been charged with failing to identify a problem gambler.

What Mystery Shoppers Do?

The main role of Mystery Shoppers
The main role of Mystery Shoppers

Gaming venues in New Zealand have a responsibility to protect their players. Staff members are trained 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 formulated a unique plan. The DIA placed mystery shoppers at New Zealand casinos, clubs, pubs, and hotels 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 operating in five cities. The public can also gamble on machines in pubs and hotels nationwide. 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.

The Methods Used by Mystery Shoppers at the Casino

The Methods used by Mystery Shoppers at the Casino
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 sizes; 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, and expressing frustration.

They observe the staff sweeping of pokie rooms and other patron behaviours. 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%)

DIA expected to see staff use interventions such as questioning whether it was a good idea to withdraw the money, asking if the person is OK, suggesting they take a break, providing problem gambling information to the person, suggesting they leave the venue, or Asking them about their gambling.

The Mystery Shoppers performed five scenarios at New Zealand casinos: Sky City Auckland, Hamilton, Dunedin, Queenstown Wharf, and Christ Church Casino.

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 behavioural signs 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).

The Gambling Commission also approves it. The Policy lists “Strong Indicators” and “General Indicators” of potential problem gambling. The casino staff recognizes these signs.

Conclusion

Mystery shoppers are, in a way, fake players visiting the casino to play games and display distressed players to observe the reaction of the casino staff. They are there to know how the casino staff deal with players with problem gambling and report it. Often, casinos send such shoppers to find out the behaviour of their own staff.

The entire practice is part of casino management, which involves offering the best service to patrons and encouraging players to gamble responsibly.

FAQs

Who conducts mystery shopping in NZ casinos?

Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), the regulatory body for gambling in NZ, has used mystery shoppers in the past. Casinos themselves may also utilize them, but such programs wouldn’t be publicly advertised.

Are there mystery shopper jobs available in NZ casinos?

There isn’t any available information on advertised mystery shopper opportunities specifically for NZ casinos. However, the DIA might conduct such programs, so contacting them could be an option.

Is mystery shopping in NZ casinos legal?

Yes, mystery shopping is legal in New Zealand, and no law states it is illegal in casinos. As long as the mystery shopper isn’t breaking any gambling laws themselves (e.g., underage gambling), it’s considered a legitimate way to assess responsible gambling practices.

What are the benefits of mystery shopping in casinos?

Improved responsible gambling practices: By highlighting areas where staff need more training or casinos need to improve procedures, mystery shopping can better support patrons struggling with gambling addiction.
Protects at-risk gamblers: Early identification of problem gambling allows casinos to intervene and offer help before the situation escalates.
Promotes a safer gambling environment: Knowing they might be evaluated by mystery shoppers can alert casinos to prioritize responsible gambling initiatives.

Is mystery shopping a risky practice in casinos?

Safety concerns: Casino staff or patrons may react negatively to a mystery shopper’s behaviour, especially if they suspect something is amiss.
Accuracy of results: Mystery shopping results depend on the shopper’s training and experience. A poorly trained shopper might misinterpret situations or miss important details.

Mamta Sharma

Mamta is a spirited writer hailing from Wellington, bringing a youthful zest to the world of digital content. Merging her love for narrative with an eye for detail, Ella crafts stories that resonate and engage the modern reader.