Introducing AUT Gambling and Addictions Research Centre

Dr. Maria Bellringer

This month we caught up with Maria Bellinger and Katie Palmer du Preez, from AUT Gambling and Addiction Research Centre (GARC), to connect and talk about their current mahi.

Ko wai au? No hea koe?


Dr Maria Bellringer, born in England and migrated to Aotearoa at the end of 2001.  I started off living in the beautiful Hibiscus Coast and never left.


Dr Katie: Palmer du Preez, originally from Taupō, now living on Auckland’s North Shore.

What is your role within the Problem Gambling space?


I’m the Acting Director of the AUT Gambling and Addictions Research Centre (GARC).  I have been researching gambling since early 2002 and joined AUT in 2003.  I left AUT to head up the Gambling Helpline in 2009 and returned to AUT in 2011.


Senior Research Fellow in the Gambling and Addictions Research Centre at AUT. I design and lead research projects that focus on reducing gambling harm. Most of this work involves partnerships within our sector. Recently my areas of interest have been in gambling harm reduction for women, family and affected others.

What’s happening at AUT?

How has COVID-19 changed how you work (if applicable)?


We have several ongoing research projects that are funded by the Ministry of Health.

  • We are currently analysing data from a clinical trial of face-to-face interventions for gamblers.  This study has been going for about five years.  It is a collaboration between The Salvation Army Oasis Centres and GARC, whereby clients of Oasis were invited to take part in the research and received one of two treatment interventions.  We have been following participants for two years to assess their outcomes.  Currently, we are analysing the data from the one-year follow-up assessment.  The findings will be available next year.
  • We have conducted additional analyses of the National Gambling Study (NGS) data that were collected annually from 2012 to 2015.  For this analysis, we looked at changes in health status over time (e.g. changes in substance use behaviour, mental health and physical health) and changes in social connectedness over time and whether these changes were associated with changes in gambling risk level over time.  The findings should be available towards the end of this year.
  • In collaboration with Central Queensland University (Australia) we are investigating long-term and intergenerational harms from gambling.  Most previous research has focused on immediate or crisis-level harms.
  • GARC also co-organises, together with PGF Group, the biennial International Gambling Conference.  We should have had an IGC this June but Covid 19 stopped that!  The next IGC will now be in 2022, when hopefully the world is back to normal.
  • GARC researchers are also supervisors for postgraduate students, to build research capacity in the gambling arena.


The project that I’m most involved in is about enhancing support for family and affected others in New Zealand gambling services.

We are asking a range of NZ and international people with expertise and experience of family addictions support (mix of consumer advisors, managers, clinicians, workforce development, researchers, and policy makers) to reflect on family-inclusive and family-centred approaches to gambling service design, delivery and evaluation.

We’re also looking at some data on service use and what support services offer families.

The idea is to open up discussion on what quality and effective support for families affected by gambling harm is and what it could be.

What is some of AUT gambling research’s history?


AUT has been involved in gambling research going way back to 1990, though the formal establishment of a research centre wasn’t until 2003 with the creation of GARC.


My research history with GARC has been varied! For example, I have managed and published research on two large national clinical trials of psychological interventions for problem gambling, mixed methods investigation into the effects of pop-up harm minimisation messages on electronic gaming machine behaviour, and work examining family violence in treatment seeking gambling populations.

What are some examples of AUT projects we’ve seen in the past?


GARC has been involved in a large variety of projects that have included national prevalence studies, randomised controlled trials, treatment evaluations, Pacific focused research, studies of harm minimisation approaches, associations between gambling and family violence, and harms from gambling, to name a few.  All our current and past research can be found on our website


We recently completed a study looking at how gender issues influence gambling behaviours and harm among women in New Zealand.

We found that community gambling on pokies enables women escape/respite from family responsibilities, family violence and harassment.

This suggested that a recent national public health campaign encouraging women to take time out from pokies, and put time into whanau, is unlikely to be effective, and could even cause harm for some women.

There is far less research into women’s experiences and issues which means that intervention is not as well informed as it could be when it comes to supporting women.

What have been some learnings/challenges you’ve experienced?


One of the difficult things I have found is disseminating research findings to the wider community, where the findings might be of use.  We produce research reports for the funder, write journal publications, and speak at conferences and to the media but these forms of dissemination are not always accessible to people at a community level.


I am really curious about new and challenging ways of working and doing research (e.g. more collaborative and action-oriented research). I am wondering:

  • How do we ensure practice-based knowledge and service-user knowledge is a part of our evidence base?
  • How can we build and sustain a culture of curiosity and learning into service design and provision?
  • How can gaps between researchers/research and practitioners/practice be bridged?

How have you incorporated these learnings going forward?


Two recent projects have been funded by the Ministry of Health to aid in accessibility of data from the NGS. 

  • We have created microdata sets that will be hosted by Statistics New Zealand - these contain anonymised data from the NGS from each of the four years of data collection.  This means that the NGS data will be more easily accessible for NZ researchers to access to conduct their own analyses of interest.  When live there will be a formal process for accessing the data.
  • We have created, in collaboration with EPI-interactive, an interactive web portal that graphically shows gambling participation and harmful gambling from the 2012 data collection year of the NGS.  These interactive charts can be examined in different ways, e.g. by gambling activity or socio-demographics.  This web portal will be hosted by the Ministry of Health and should be live in the not-too-distant future.  We hope to build on this portal in the future.


I am learning to listen more and talk less! I am looking for ways to engage with the broader sector about research needs.

For example, I am really enjoying participating in the discussions held at the Joint Agency Meetings (JAM) for gambling harm reduction services held in Auckland.

I’d love to find out more about the research questions/needs in our harm reduction sector, and how we might be able to carry out or support with harm reduction projects (from large funded projects through to smaller e.g. student projects).

What can the PGPH sector expect to see from AUT gambling research this year?


As above.


We will be finalising a Ministry of Health funded report on recommendations for enhancing support for family and affected others in New Zealand gambling services.

We will be planning our International Gambling Conference and Think Tank for 2022.

Where can we go for more information?



Or contact


Our website:

Please feel free to contact me directly to talk about research requirements/ideas!