Questions and Answers


Q: What was the purpose of the exercise?

The purpose of the exercise was to provide a snapshot of how well venue staff identified and responded to signs of harmful gambling. It also highlights opportunities where further support can be provided by industry operators and the Department to better protect gamblers and build stronger communities. 

Q: Does this exercise show that there is lots of problem gambling happening?

No. The preliminary figures from the 2016 Health and Lifestyle Survey indicate there has been no increase in the overall prevalence of problem gambling from 2014 to 2016.

This exercise reveals information about how well venue staff are putting their harm prevention and minimisation training into practice.

Q: How well do you think the sector did?

Gambling venues are doing better at helping problem gamblers but need to do much more.

Since 2014, gaming machine societies and casinos have put considerable effort into harm minimisation practice. The Department has noted a significant change in attitude towards the issue of gamble host responsibility in this time. 


The four SKYCITY casinos have made significant improvements. They have made positive changes, not only to systems and processes but also to culture and staff attitude towards helping those who display signs of harmful gambling.

Christchurch and Dunedin casinos have also made progress, but the results indicate more can be done to lift their performance.

Class 4 sector

For the class 4 sector the scenarios in this exercise were based on our clear expectations and best practice guidelines outlined in the Gamble Host Pack. These resources were distributed in December 2015 and presented our expectations in a new way, designed specifically for use by venues.

The standards we assessed against were high, and to meet the expectations venues had to achieve all criteria. Given this, the number of venues meeting all the expectations was low. Many more venues partially met the expectations. This suggests progress can be made by the sector to further improve harm prevention and minimisation in venues.

Q: Can comparisons be made between the 2014 and 2016 mystery shopper exercises?

Similarities in gambling harm behaviours played out in the casino scenarios used in 2014 and 2016 has meant comparisons can be made.

For non-club venues, the scenarios carried out in 2014 were of a shorter duration and in retrospect, less realistic than those developed for the 2016 exercise. For this reason direct comparisons cannot be made.

Q: How was the project undertaken?

A tender was undertaken and an independent company, experienced in mystery shopper exercises, was contracted to undertake the visits.
The company selected 11 mystery shoppers.  The majority of them had previous experience in the 2014 mystery shop exercise commissioned by DIA.

DIA managed the training and harm minimisation awareness for the mystery shoppers.

The mystery shoppers undertook a total of 120 visits to class 4 venues including clubs and non-clubs (pubs and hotels.) This equates to 10 per cent of class 4 venues.

Sixteen casino visits were also made.  

The logistics of their visits to venues were managed by the independent company.

The exercise was undertaken from October to December 2016.

Gambling operators were informed the exercise was to be conducted in 2016, however, they were not told the exact dates, which venues would be targeted, nor the scenarios that were to be acted out.

Q: How much did the shoppers gamble? Who paid for this?

A maximum base float of $40 per hour was given to each mystery shopper. This means, for example. that for the scenario which involved a mystery shopper playing for 6.5 hours they had a float of $260. In addition, the mystery shoppers were instructed that any winnings they received were to be put back into the gaming machine during the period of the scenario. Mystery shoppers were to increase rates of play and vary bets to match winnings or free credits.

These costs were included in the overall cost of the project.

Q: Did any of the shoppers win money from their gambling? If so what happened to the winnings?

Winnings totalled $5024.10. It was donated to the Salvation Army.

During a scenario the mystery shoppers were requested to put any winnings back in to the gaming machine. If they had winnings left over at the end of a scenario they were returned to the third party vendor, who returned them to the Department.

Q: How robust is the mystery shopper exercise? Can we trust the results?

Most research is subject to certain limitations, and this project is no exception. Some of the limitations specific to this exercise include:

  • the ability of the mystery shoppers to perform the scenarios in full due to factors out of the control of the exercise; and
  • the inability of the mystery shopper to capture every element of their experience at the venue i.e. some information was not captured in the raw data and was not available to the Department.

The results provide us and the sector with a snapshot of harm minimisation practice and we’re confident about the picture they present.

The majority of those who were mystery shopped have committed themselves to make improvements. This indicates the sector takes the results seriously.

Department’s current/future actions:

Q: Why isn’t the Department taking enforcement action?

The Department will use the results as a key piece of information to target high risk venues.

Inspections of high risk venues will lead to sanction action if outstanding issues are not rectified within a certain timeframe.

We expect the sector to use the results to continue to improve gamble host responsibility. The Department will continue to work with the sector to improve performance and will use the results to identify where more education and extra regulatory focus is needed.

The results will be used by us as a baseline to assess future improvements.

Q: What work will you do with the sector to improve practice?

The results from the exercise will assist the Department in our class 4 venue-based work and build on resources already available. New resources are also being developed in partnership with the Health Promotion Agency, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and the wider gambling sector. This work includes:



Gamble Host Pack resource

Rolled out December 2015

Harm minimisation policy template

Rolling out June 2017

Class 4 staff harm minimisation training package

Rolling out June 2017

Overhaul of venue inspections

Engagement & pilot, mid to late 2017

Venue inspections in high risk venues

Late 2017 – 2018

Best practice licences

In development

Harm minimisation policy template and training package
The roll out of a standardised harm minimisation policy template for societies and venues, and the new venue training package builds on the resources available in the Gamble Host Pack. They provide venue staff clearer expectations and guidance based on best practice gamble host responsibility. These initiatives will support better harm prevention and minimisation practice with all operators who are keen to make improvements in their venues. The long term aim is that all staff understand the expectations and have the same level of training no matter which society the venue is with.

Venue inspections
The Department is also changing its approach to how clubs and non-clubs are inspected, with a more robust assessment of harm minimisation practice at venue level. This will further embed expectations around harm minimisation practice and seek to improve performance and cultural change.

Best practice licences
Recent changes to the Gambling Act 2003 provided the Department an opportunity to issue operator licences to class 4 societies for up to three years. This initiative will enable the Department to reward the societies that demonstrate best practice - defined by the Department as going above and beyond the legislation, focusing on customers and communities, regular reviewing and learning, and working with the Department to achieve its class 4 vision and objectives.[1]

The Department’s vision for the class 4 gambling sector is to have a safe, trusted and transparent gambling sector that benefits communities. To achieve this, the Department has been moving towards responsive risk-based regulation and promoting a culture of care in venues with a focus on improving practice beyond minimum compliance.

Q: Will you undertake another mystery shopper exercise?

We will consider adopting on-going mystery shopper assessments as part of our usual venue based work.


[1] Public consultation for this initiative ended 19 May 2017.