GREO: The importance of addressing the harms related to online gambling

By Peter Lynch

Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO) teamed up with the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR) to deliver a webinar to help inform and educate the industry on contemporary gambling harm research.

Drawing on the most recent evidence on gambling-related harm, GREO focused specifically on online gambling and the harms associated with the activity.

Taking part in the webinar on behalf of GREO was Lindsay Kalbfleisch, Stakeholder Engagement Lead, Liz Lusk, Chief Strategy Officer, and Dr. Trudy Smit Quosai, Chief Executive Officer.

GREO Chief Strategy Officer Lusk opened the webinar with an introduction to the organisation, saying: “We started 20 years ago, originally mandated to work in Canada within Ontario and nationally on safer gambling and gambling harm reduction. We have grown and now work globally with several jurisdictions on gambling and gaming policies, practices, and programmes, all in the realm of harm reduction and health promotion.”

She continued: “We have a safer gambling evidence centre, which is the world's largest digital collection of safer gambling evidence. We also host a research grade gambling data repository to support secondary research analysis. 

“We deliver on-demand policy briefs that are directed by our clients and our stakeholders to answer and support evidence-informed decision making in a very timely capacity. So if we have some emerging hot topics, or key issues, or new legislation - things that signal a change and require levelling and shoring up of our evidence-informed decision making - that's where we support in that way.”

GREO Stakeholder Engagement Lead Kalbfleisch then delved into the hugely significant topic in the industry today of problem gambling and gambling-related harms, with a specific focus on online gambling. She explained the growing significance of this issue within the industry, and noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has simply furthered the concern surrounding it.

“We know that addressing the harms related to online gambling is more important today than ever before,” said Kalbfleisch. “We know that online gambling is expanding rapidly across the globe, and that the very nature of online gambling allows players uninterrupted access to both regulated and unregulated gambling platforms.

“What makes it even more timely is that studies are showing us that since the onset of Covid-19 and associated restrictions, there's been an increase in online gambling, while a movement of people who are gambling in land-based venues have moved over to online gambling. Depending on the jurisdiction, some of the numbers show that as many as 25-30% of players have moved in that direction. So not only is it expanding rapidly, but just the realities of what we've been living through have really pushed people to engage in a new way.”

Looking at online gambling in more detail, Kalbfleisch stated: “We know gambling in general can lead to harms, but there are some mechanisms and realities associated with online gambling that perhaps make it more likely that people will harm from gambling in that space.”

We know that addressing the harms related to online gambling is more important today than ever before. We know that online gambling is expanding rapidly across the globe, and that the very nature of online gambling allows players uninterrupted access to both regulated and unregulated gambling platforms

The webinar also focused on other key areas within gambling harms, such as innovative approaches to the regulation of online gambling, and leveraging the digital environment to reduce harms. But also of huge importance is the future, and how this issue will be approached in the months and years to come.

Kalbfleisch took a look at the next steps for research and evaluation, explaining that “technology in this space is going to continue to evolve,” and so “we need to continue to commission research to analyse the impact of these individual website features, and what those features mean in terms of harm - the ways in which those can reduce or perpetuate harms.”

She noted that when thinking through evaluations of any policy innovation, the logical next step is evaluation. “We pilot it, we make our best guess and then we need to meaningfully and thoughtfully explore what the difference was, based on our policy,” said Kalbfleisch.

“And the way the literature says we need to go about that is to really clearly articulate our intended outcomes of our policy shifts, and make sure that our evaluations are drawing on multiple data sources; both aggregate data from our player systems, and data from speaking to our players and understanding the impact our policies are having."

Kalbfleisch added that the full range of timeframes must be considered: “The research also suggests that, for policy change, we need to make sure we're evaluating short-term, but also in a medium and long-term timeframe, because we know that the initial response to our policies is not always representative of what things are going to look like longer term."

GREO’s Stakeholder Engagement Lead explained that it may take time for changes in behaviours and related harm to occur, so zooming out is required in order to further understand the meaningful differences based on policy shifts.

Kalbfleisch concluded: “Perhaps most importantly in an online gambling space, given the global nature and the fact that all jurisdictions are wrestling with many of the issues at the same time, researchers are suggesting that international collaboration through opportunities for groups and international partners and players to come together is going to be critical. So that's where we have to head.”

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