- »VRGF Responds to VAGO and Invests in Covid-19 Research
VRGF Responds to VAGO and Invests in Covid-19 Research
The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation was a result of the aptly-named Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation Act 2011. The government understood the increasing frequency of gambling and wanted to create a body that could monitor the effects of the industry and do as much as possible to prevent gambling harm.
VRGF’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of Victorians through effective, evidence-based initiatives and innovative approaches to prevent harm from gambling and provide support to everyone needing or seeking help.
A board and three advisory committees monitor the work of VRGF and provide strategic direction. All is governed by and accountable to the Minister of Consumer Affairs.
The latest tasks for VRGF are substantial but the reason that the group exists in the first place. The foundation will provide funding for research into gambling during the recent pandemic and over the years to follow. And the larger task is to respond to actionable items detailed in the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) report issued in March 2021.
Covid-19 Impact on Gamblers
This week, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that his Andrews Labor Government plans to invest in new research regarding the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the entirety of the gambling environment. The goal is to identify its implications on gambling behavior, how to address it, and how to use that information to benefit gamblers in the future.
The Foundation for Responsible Gambling will provide the funds for the research, which will fall under the 11th round of grants for gambling-related research. The theme of this round is “Gambling in Victoria in 2020 – Covid-19 and beyond.”
Per Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation Melissa Horne, “To be able to plan and respond to gambling harm effectively, we need to know how Covid-19 affected gambling behaviours. This funding will be incredibly beneficial in understanding how those vulnerable to gambling were impacted by the pandemic.
Breakdown of Research Funding
Of the $600,000 set aside for the research, the Foundation for Responsible Gambling will allocate the money as follows:
- Prospective cohort study to assess Covid-19’s effect on relationships between gambling availability, behaviour, harm and social, psychological and financial wellbeing: $150,000 to CQ University (three-year investigative study)
- Economic insecurity and gabling behaviors in Covid-19 society: $150,000 to RMIT (three-year investigative study)
- How Victorian gamblers kept busy during lockdowns, and if substituted leisure activities reduce gambling harm and risks: $150,000 to Schottler Consulting (three-year investigative study)
- Online gambling trajectories for Sunraysia Aboriginal community in a world changed by Covid-19: $100,000 to LaTrobe University (two-year mid-career research)
- Preventing a new epidemic during a pandemic by examining the influence of Covid-19 stressors on gambling behaviours: $100,000 to Deakin University (two-year mid-career research)
- Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on harms and support needed by families and friends of gamblers: $50,000 to Deaking University (18-month early-career research)
VRGF CEO Shane Lucas noted that recent data showed a 30% increase of online wagering on racing and sports during the pandemic. “It’s critical we understand and learn from these changes in gambling behaviour,” he said.
VAGO Performance Audit: March 2021
Victorian Auditor-General Andrew Greaves’ office released its latest report in March entitled “Reducing the Harm Caused by Gambling.” This is the latest annual report due under the Audit Act of 1994.
The goal of the yearly document is to examine the goals and achievements of the VRGF with regard to understanding gambling harm, creating effective prevention programs, and offering treatment services.
The overall conclusion of the latest report is that the VRGF does not know if its programs reduce gambling harm. Further, the organization does not have an outcome-based framework to develop programs and measure their results, which prevents it from evaluating its impact. And any evaluations produced do not effectively use all of the evidence available to improve programs.
This is not an ideal result considering that the VRGF’s 2020-2021 budget was $38.25M.
For context, gambling harm costs Victorians approximately $7B each year in financial losses, familial and relationship problems, and emotional and psychological issues.
In 2019-2020, Victoria drew $1.7B in state taxation revenue.
Gambling Harm Recommendations
VAGO offered two main recommendations for using research about gambling harm to design services and apply it to program development.
- Ensure that research informs the design and improvement of prevention programs and treatment services via requiring research to identify recommended actions, and track and report progress of the implementation of those recommendations.
- Apply available research and evaluations where appropriate to improve the efficacy of treatment and support services by integrating peer support, investigating causes of client disengagement with services, and evaluating treatment approaches.
The aforementioned suggestions will help in understanding gambling harm and responses to it, but VAGO also offered recommendations with regard to preventing that harm in the first place.
- Develop a framework to evaluate prevention and treatment programs for specified risk factors and along a common set of outcome measurements.
- Assess the cost-effectiveness of prevention approaches for media campaigns aimed at sports betting among young people.
- Identify, share, and promote better practices with funded organizations to focus on building community capacity via tailored guidance and resources to support program design and delivery, along with providing opportunities for shared learnings.
Treating gambling harm is another aspect of the report, focusing on various treatment options and communities, mental health and co-occurring conditions.
- Establish client information sharing and referral protocols between Gambler’s Help services, peer support options, and programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Complete a strategic review of the client information database to identify deficiencies or quality issues and measure for efficacy and fitness for various purposes.
- Establish systems and protocols for gamblers with co-occurring conditions to allow for holistic screening assessments and referrals for other services specializing in mental health, alcohol and drugs, homelessness, and family violence services.
Actions in Response to VAGO
VRGF accepted all of the recommendations from the VAGO report and issued a response. The chart acknowledged the recommendations, listed the actions it will take in response, and offered projected completion dates for those actions.
In order of completion goals, VRGF listed its responses as follows:
- July 2021: Develop an outcome-based framework to assess VRGF’s impact on gambling harm prevention and reduction, including outcome or proxy measures.
- December 2021: Ensure that funded research identifies recommended actions to improve practices, programs, and processes, including recording and tracking progress and reporting outcomes to the board.
- December 2021: Measure cost-effectiveness via the assessment of prevention approaches where possible and via the review of campaign effectiveness measures to demonstrate the impact of multi-faceted strategies.
- December 2021: Explore opportunities to work with governmental bodies of justice, community safety, health and families, and fairness and housing to establish systems for supporting identification, treatment, and cross-agency referrals.
- July 2022: Develop processes to build community capacity for preventing gambling harm, further identifying, sharing and promoting improvements with funded partners.
- July 2022: Review core service datasets and work with Gambler’s Help to further develop client-level outcome measures for efficacy.
- July 2023: Assess client needs and review areas of concern, and work to improve the efficacy of treatment services for 2021 to 2024.
- July 2023: Commence discussions and planning to enable sharing and referral protocols between different treatment service options, including in other jurisdictions.