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Mitigating harm as the gambling landscape changes

For many families and communities around the globe, 2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year.

Here in Victoria, even as the embers of a devasting bushfire season died, the COVID-19 pandemic was upon us.

Throughout these extremely difficult events, our partners, staff, friends and colleagues across the state have demonstrated outstanding professionalism and continued to deliver high-quality support and services to individuals and families affected by gambling harm.

Flexible service delivery

Responding to the COVID-19 restrictions with speed and agility, Gambler’s Help agencies adopted a telehealth model that allows staff to provide therapeutic and financial counselling to existing and new clients from lounge rooms and dining room tables across Victoria, and outside standard business hours.

This is a tremendous achievement that may well lead to permanent adjustments to service delivery into the future, for example, to accommodate how and when clients want or need to access support.

On behalf of the Board and staff of the Foundation, I congratulate and thank all involved.

Gambling harm during the pandemic

The temporary closure of venues has served as a circuit breaker for some in our community who have previously experienced gambling harm, and we hope that they can sustain these positive changes in their lives.

However, the Foundation is aware that there are also people who are nervous about falling back into old habits when venues reopen, and others whose urges to gamble may put them at risk of experiencing more severe harm. It is likely also that there are people who have newly taken up gambling or substituted other online gambling options for their usual activity during the restrictions and who may be betting in a risky way.

Similarly, we anticipate the resumption of traditional sporting codes will see participation in sports betting increase, encouraged by saturation levels of industry advertising that targets one of the groups most vulnerable to gambling harm, young men.

Addressing these issues will be critical in mitigating the risk of additional gambling harm.

A new normal

The Foundation is preparing for the transition to a ‘new normal’ as restrictions continue to be lifted over coming weeks, and to take advantage of this opportunity to rethink gambling in Victoria.

In particular, we are gathering information on how the gambling landscape has changed to provide evidence-based policy and other advice to government and industry on immediate and longer term issues arising from the current restrictions.

Intelligence is being obtained through Foundation-commissioned research; surveys conducted by other organisations, for example, on who is gambling and their expenditure on different products; market research across the general community; and analysis of issues and trends identified through media reporting since venues closed in late March. In addition, the theme for round 11 of our Grants for Gambling Research Program is ‘Gambling in Victoria in 2020 – COVID-19 and beyond’.

Ongoing priorities

There has been a significant and appropriate focus in the past couple of months, which will be ongoing, on treatment and support for people experiencing gambling-related harm, including those who are frustrated, anxious or stressed that they have not been able to attend venues.

Staff have also continued to make considerable progress in a range of other priority areas, including enhancing prevention measures for at-risk groups, such as people with mental health issues; meeting our Reconciliation Action Plan commitments; supporting peer connection and other lived experience-informed activities; encouraging uptake of the 100 Day Challenge; and tackling normalisation through the Love the Game Sporting Club Program.

I hope you will enjoy reading about some of our endeavours in this Inside gambling newsletter.

Shane Lucas

CEO, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation

Shane Lucas
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