Nelson Leader : September 12th 2013
15 THE NELSON LEADER, SEPTEMBER 12, 2013 FEATURE Winning the fight against gambling Two minutes w ith... Farewell: Dr Philip Townshend is leaving the Problem Gambling Foundation to work in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: MARION VAN DIJK Dr Philip Townshend has been research director at Problem Gambling Foundation s Nelson branch since 1998. He leaves at the end of this month to take up a position in Melbourne as manager of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation s professional development centre. The Leader caught up with him before he left. Tell me about the gambling situation in New Zealand right now. Pokies was the problem, but we re actually winning this one, and you don t really get a lot of really good news stories like that. Since 2005, the number of people who use pokie machines has been steadily going down and the amount that they spend on them has been steadily going down. That s a result of a whole lot of things that people like the Problem Gambling Foundation do -- good treatment, but also really good community awareness- raising so people recognise pokies as something that can cause problems. We really are getting there. Tell me about some of your most successful campaigns in Nelson. I can t help but think of what we did on Gamble Free Day, which was on September 1. The moot of our debate in Nelson was Is community funding a pact with the devil? It was a pretty inflammatory type of title but we had Martin Cheer, who is CEO of one of the biggest pokie trusts Pub Charity there; Nigel Muir from Sport Tasman, who is a big recipient; and Paul Matheson, who is a councillor but also a consultant to one of the pokie trusts in Wellington, NZCT. They were on the negative side, and then we had three people from [various gambling support organisations] on the affirmative side. At one point, we would never have been able to get those people together to have a few laughs talking about a moot like that in a public environment. Actually, that was the first time in New Zealand that something like that would have happened. We ve got relationships with pubs now in Nelson. They re telling us if they re worried about someone who s gambling, we ve got the industry prepared to actually come and front up to a debate like that, and I think we ve had really good media about this. Some of the individual stories you come across must really stay with you. One of the things that I m really going to miss [when I start] the job in Melbourne is that I don t do any treatment, there s no clinical stuff. Although I ve done a lot of study and all that sort of stuff, you do learn the most from the clients. There s huge wisdom out there. I know the neuroscience part of addiction and they know the experience part, so when we get together we can come up with these individual solutions that work really well. Can you tell us about a good news' story where somebody surprised you by recovering really well? Those kind of stories happen quite routinely, actually. Especially with the pokie machine addiction, you do pretty well almost all of the time. I think that s one of the reasons why treatment has been so popular, because why would you come to treatment if you don t think it s going to work? I hear there's a voluntary programme that has been very effective. In New Zealand we ve got these exclusion rules which are absolutely unique in the world. If one of my clients comes in here in Nelson, in about half an hour we can do the paperwork, take photos and circulate stuff which means that it is then illegal for them to go into the gambling area of any venue in town. Once they go in, then they ve committed an offence and can be fined up to $500. Of course losing money doesn t stop problem gamblers from gambling, but what makes that really work is that the venue that lets them into that area has also committed an offence. They can be fined up to $10,000. It s a really wonderful thing because often, when you do that [exclusion order], you can just see this weight falling from people s shoulders. Oh, I don t have to gamble any more. There s probably between 30 and 40 people that have exclu- sions in operation in our area. I understand that recently you've been working more and more with children and young adults who have TV and computer gaming addictions. When you look at the neuro- science of addiction, gaming may actually be the most pure kind of addiction you can have. There s no chemicals polluting this, you know. With most addictions there s a limiting factor -- what makes you decide that you ll only have a few drinks? With alcohol there s a whole range of limiting factors that decide how much you can drink and even with gambling, you run out of money, but with gaming, you only have to have a functioning index finger and partial consciousness and you can do it. I see people who do gamble or would gamble 20 hours out of 24 if they could. Especially with some of the adolescents, the power of [gaming] is just huge. We re getting on top of pokie gambling but gaming and gambling are going to become difficult to distinguish [in the future]. The problem with gaming is that we very seldom get a gamer coming along here [to the Problem Gambling Foundation].Usually it s the gamer dragged along by their parents. I think there may already be quite a significant problem out there -- unless they ve got somebody who cares enough about them to drag them along, we probably just don t see these people. Do you have any advice for parents who might be struggling with a child's gaming addiction? I hear this pattern all the time, We ve brought our 18-month-old an iPad. We just love that they re so good with using apps and they can use a touchscreen, and aren t they wonderful? Whenthekidis10,11or12and the parents are starting to think, This kid is spending a huge amount of time online and try and stop them, then you get this real aggression. Of course, by then, it s too late. I think what parents really need to be doing is thinking, We have to tell our kids about drugs, we have to tell them about alcohol and cigarettes, we have to tell them about sex and teach our kids about money, and actually we have to teach them how to control their internet use as well. It s another thing like that. You can t go through life with- out using it but you really do have to have good ideas about how much time is appropriate to spend online.
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