Lotto NZ is investigating expanding its sales on its digital "MyLotto" platform to include online Bingo, and that is causing serious concern for some.
The government-owned gambling company has gone to market for information about online Bingo systems for potential implementation with its existing online channels.
Lotto NZ launched MyLotto in 2008 and the platform was re-launched in 2017 after being replatformed to a responsive website and incorporating sales via an app.
Sales from digital channels since have risen to about 20 percent of total sales, with 800,000 registered players, of which 250,000 are active monthly and 600,000 active annually.
"Overall, we believe there is still significant growth opportunity for the digital channel, as the current interactive player base makes up a relatively small percentage of players that participate in our games throughout the year across all channels," Lotto NZ said in a notice on the government tenders website.
"The risk profile of Bingo as an online format game is considered "medium risk", which is in line with our existing instant-win games," Lotto NZ said.
"It is worth noting that the rating takes into account the responsible gaming features that are used to minimise harm, and it is therefore possible to reduce the points, and subsequent risk rating of products, through the introduction of additional controls."
However, Problem Gambling Foundation spokesperson Andree Froude said the organisation was very concerned about the possibility of online Bingo.
"Online instant play games have only just been introduced and now Lotto is considering this," Froude said.
"These are both high risk forms of gambling because they are continuous so people don’t have to wait long for a result. They are significantly more harmful than purchasing a Lotto ticket where you have to wait for the outcome."
"While Lotto may rate these games as ‘medium risk’, we don’t."
In an online environment, people can access the game 24/7 and that can be easily hidden, she said. Setting spending limits would not protect the vulnerable.
"Who is going to benefit from this? Lotto – who are obviously doing this to make money. They use aggressive marketing tactics and have huge marketing budgets so people will be encouraged to try online bingo and ‘be in to win'."
Pacific Island communities were particularly vulnerable because the game was associated with fundraising and was seen as a social activity, said the foundation's national director for Pacific services, Pesio Ah-Honi.
"Bingo and Housie are normalised forms of gambling in Pacific communities -- it is not seen as risky, just as a social activity," Ah-Honi said. "If it is taken out of this social context and put in an online environment, it poses a high risk for Pacific.
Pacific youth are particularly at risk according to a recent study.
"The Ministry of Health has just released its Strategy to Prevent and Minimise Gambling Harm and it included a strong focus on addressing health inequalities and inequities of gambling harm in a range of at-risk groups, including Pacific," Ah-Honi said.
Lotto NZ said in its notice that minimising the potential for harm from the company's games "continues to underpin everything we do at Lotto NZ, and is a key driver of any decision to grow our portfolio and increase sales."
"Our overall responsible gaming programme demonstrates international best practice, having been certified to level four (the highest possible level) by the World Lottery Association (WLA),"it said.
"We continue to look for ways to enhance this programme across all areas of the business."
Lotto NZ said it assesses the risk profile of each of its games using the external game evaluation tool GamGard, which works by examining the structural and situational characteristics of the game and identifies how risky a proposed game is likely to be for a vulnerable person.
"It provides guidance about responsible gaming design and enables us to consider the responsible gaming implications of each feature of our games."
Lotto NZ's offline games received a low-risk rating while its online games were considered of medium risk.
Lotto NZ said it was seeking well-documented overviews of solutions for online Bingo platforms and technology, content and the gaming model.
"The content must be reputable, reliable and legal," it said. "In a broad sense, we are looking to understand what Bingo games and presentation options you have available in your solution.
"We’re interested in the way in which your games operate, the configurability you offer, ability to offer side games and chat functionality."
Any platform deployed would have to pass a game risk assessment to understand its potential impact on vulnerable people.