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'Where is your moral compass?' - Public health advocate says TAB and Lotto are not essential during pandemic

The head of a public health agency is asking why Lotto and the TAB continue to operate during the lockdown, with isolation and financial strain being risk factors in harmful gambling behaviour.

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Hāpai Te Hauora Chief Executive Selah Hart says gambling should not be an essential service. Source: Breakfast

Speaking this morning to TVNZ 1's Breakfast, Hāpai Te Hauora Chief Executive Selah Hart said Lotto and TAB's continued online operation was concerning, and that it was difficult to see how these businesses could be classed as essential.

"To me, gambling or gaming is not seen to fit with our food supply, our chemists, our doctors and our health services," Ms Hart said.

"I'm really concerned that we've enabled this to occur for our communities that potentially could use this as a time to really get into some dangerous gambling or harmful gambling."

Ms Hart quoted figures showing that about 36,000 new MyLotto accounts had been created in the past two weeks.

"That's really alarming to me - we've got nearly 40,000 New Zealanders who had never used an online platform to utilise Lotto as a gaming form, have now had to do so because they've shut them down in the sales outlets."

She said the lockdown could have been seen as a good time for gamblers to cut down.

Overseas online gambling sites were also a worry, she said, because they were not regulated the same as New Zealand services.

Ms Hart said her organisation is planning to ask the Government to ensure it is "doing everything we can to protect our people.

"We should be doing everything we possibly can to ensure that we are not opening up more opportunities for harm," Ms Hart said.

"People have a lot of time on their hands - if they have just been recently laid off work, or are self isolating at home - what are they doing to pass the time?

"Is this an avenue that they will now potentially pick up?

"We do need to go a step further and actually call these entities out and say 'where is your moral compass?'

"Why are you still operating?"