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Managing our response to COVID-19

We are genuinely “all in this together” – Foundation staff and partners have been as one with the broader Victorian community as we have experienced the shock of the pandemic and the related restrictions on behaviours and activities, as well as the aftershocks of further lockdowns.

The closure of casino gaming and gambling venues across the state from 23 March meant different things to different people. For some people, it led to stress and isolation as places of social interaction closed. For others, it provided relief and a welcome opportunity to address financial and family issues. Some turned to online forms of gambling, even looking as far afield as Ukrainian table tennis and Tajikistani basketball.

For many business owners, and the people they employ, the closure of venues meant financial hardship and uncertainty about the future. More broadly, we have experienced a significant economic downturn as a consequence of the restrictions put in place to address the public health emergency. This has led to emotional and financial distress across the Victorian community.

Throughout these difficult times, our partners, staff, friends and colleagues across the state have demonstrated – and continue to demonstrate – outstanding professionalism, delivering high-quality support and services to those affected by gambling harm.

We’ve all heard a lot about the importance of being “agile” in this environment.

At the Foundation, we established priority work streams to respond to immediate barriers to delivering our work as a result of the pandemic. Each stream was supported by a dedicated working group drawing on expertise from across the organisation.

The Mental Health Influencer working group, for example, is engaging and influencing stakeholders across the mental health and broader community health sectors to further embed an understanding of gambling harm and its association with mental health issues and other comorbidities.

Opportunities pursued include building relationships with influential and relevant organisations such as Beyond Blue and the Victorian Council of Social Service; strengthening relationships with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure improved data sharing and understanding of shared priorities and cohorts; and engaging with CEOs of Primary Health Networks with the aim of screening for gambling problems being incorporated in medical and health settings.

Our Gambler’s Help partners have successfully moved many financial and therapeutic counselling services to telehealth and our prevention partners have turned to online delivery of health promotion activities.

Elite and community sporting clubs and associations have continued to support their communities even when play has not been possible. And our research and academic partners have been responsive in helping us to understand the rapidly changing gambling environment during the pandemic.

In this issue of Inside gambling, we tell some of these stories of undiminished response through tough times.

As Banyule Community’s Health’s Peer Connection is a phone-based service, they’ve been able to talk to their clients as before. There’s no doubt, however, that those phone calls are now more important than ever with social contact so limited and avoided altogether by many vulnerable community members.

The SMART Recovery group run by EACH Gambler’s Help has moved from being a drop-in round-table format to operating via Zoom. This clinician-based peer-to-peer program now supports its clients online as they take practical steps to determine and then achieve their goals week by week.

From the backslaps and congratulatory hugs on the cricket and footy fields to social distancing, Reclink rapidly adjusted their service model to help their participants navigate government health advice and lockdown. Through the distribution of sporting packs and engaging their followers online in events such as push-up challenges, they’ve managed to connect in new and practical ways.

Finally, the Foundation is delighted to welcome Lee Crockford to the Foundation board. Lee is a social impact strategist who is passionate about instigating behaviour change through innovation and design. In tumultuous times with change at every turn, we are particularly fortunate to benefit from Lee’s expertise.

Stay safe and well, friends and colleagues – we’ve got this.

Shane Lucas

CEO, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation

Shane Lucas
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