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10 years of addressing gambling harm

Shane Lucas

This year marks a decade since the establishment of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation in July 2012. Over the journey, our knowledge and understanding of gambling harm has broadened and deepened, thanks in no small part to our ongoing collaboration with the research community and our funded partners working in diverse fields of treatment, support, prevention, community engagement and advocacy.

I want to take a moment to reflect on a few of the changes that have occurred across the last ten years. Let’s start with our understanding of the harm caused by pokies.

The research is undeniable. While legal and regulated across Australia, electronic gaming machines (EGMs) cause significant gambling harm to many individuals, families and communities.

Reforms to tackle gambling harm

In recognition of this, the Victorian Government introduced reforms several years ago that successfully curbed pokies expenditure. These included limits on the minimum bet per spin; a maximum amount that could be loaded into a machine; and the removal of ATMS from gaming venues.

These were important reforms and helped to alleviate gambling harm – and the risk of harm – for many vulnerable consumers. However, Foundation-funded research continues to reveal that pokies remain the most harmful gambling product, responsible for 38 per cent of gambling harm in Victoria.

Foundation-funded research continues to reveal that pokies remain the most harmful gambling product

The Foundation has always made evidence-based arguments for pre-commitment schemes. Our evidence and submissions to the 2021 Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence helped inform the Commission’s final recommendation to introduce a mandatory pre-commitment scheme into the Melbourne casino.

Developing innovative programs

At the community level, the Foundation is also proud to support prevention programs like Libraries After Dark with more than 20 libraries across the state staying open late once a week to offer recreational activities as a safe alternative for people who might otherwise end up at a pokies venue.

In 2015, the Foundation launched the Love the Game prevention program. At that time, six Victorian AFL clubs pledged to refrain from entering sponsorship deals with betting agencies; to work alongside the Foundation to help inform the community about the risks of gambling; and to try to counter the normalisation of sport and betting.

… more than 700 Victorian professional and community clubs … are Love the Game partners.

Today, all 10 Victorian AFL clubs are Love the Game partners and refuse the sports betting dollar – and six clubs no longer have any reliance on revenue from pokies venues. Altogether, more than 700 Victorian professional and community clubs and associations across various sporting codes – cricket, netball, soccer, rugby union, basketball – are Love the Game partners, united against the promotion of sports betting.

Research and the public health approach

Underpinning all the Foundation’s work is our internationally recognised research program. It delivers population-level evidence and insight to assist our many partners to better understand issues such as prevalence, the social costs of gambling and the various comorbidities associated with gambling harm such as mental health, drug and alcohol issues, family violence, trauma, social isolation.

Through research, the Foundation has been able to articulate the many factors that contribute to gambling harm and how to work collaboratively with our partners to support at-risk cohorts and communities.

It delivers population-level evidence and insight…

Research has confirmed the importance of taking a public health approach to the prevention and reduction of gambling, and to support the move away from notions of ‘problem gambling’ and ‘individual responsibility’. This has most recently been seen in the Commonwealth Government’s decision to instruct industry to change the tag lines on gambling advertisements away from ‘gamble responsibly’ to clearer advice for consumers around risk and the likelihood of losses.

It is a really positive step and one strongly supported by the Foundation.

The voices of lived experience

The Foundation also continues to embed the many voices of lived experience in our prevention program design and our community messaging. Sharing personal stories and providing peer support are impactful and effective methods that reduce gambling harm and raise community awareness of the real impact of harm on individuals and affected others.

The establishment of the Foundation’s Lived Experience Advisory Committee in 2018 acknowledged that lived experience perspectives are essential for program efficacy while also providing an important message of hope for people experiencing gambling harm - things can get better.

Sharing personal stories and providing peer support … raise community awareness of the real impact of harm.

The Foundation also relies on over 30 partnerships to provide gambling prevention and treatment services across the state, including in First Nations and multicultural communities. Other programs delivered by funded partners focus on awareness raising, breaking down stigma, and providing peer support.

The causes of gambling harm are complex, as are the solutions, which is why it is important that we continue to work together across government, the primary and allied health sectors, academia, industry – and the wider community.

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