Australian gambling sector body Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA) has publicly criticised new research produced by the government-funded Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC).
Earlier this autumn, the AGRC released a study on gambling in the country during the coronavirus pandemic. The study was based on a survey of 2,019 gamblers and it concluded that almost one in three of those surveyed had signed up for a new online betting account during the pandemic. The survey also found that people gambled more in general during the pandemic, with the proportion who gambled four times per week rising from 23% to 32%.
The report further claimed that 79% of respondents could be classified as being at risk of, or already experiencing, gambling-related harm, suggesting a problem gambling risk rate ten times greater than the prevalence across the national population, and five times the usual rate among Australian gamblers based on another AGRC report from 2015.
The participants for the survey were drawn from those who answered social media advertisements or e-news alerts and all of those who took part were entered into a draw for a AUS$200 voucher.
In response, the Chief Executive of Responsible Wagering Australia, Brent Jackson, said the results of the report should be questionable enough to raise doubts over how it was conducted. Jackson said that the use of a pool of research subjects in which almost 80% were at-risk individuals could not provide an accurate picture of gambling behaviour in Australia and that the results would be inevitably skewed. He added that there was an inherent bias in the study, which had led to alarmist headlines.
Jackson also criticised the use of evidence drawn from ten interviews with anonymous individuals who worked in the gambling sector, which indicated that most thought the closure of betting retail venues was a beneficial move, with one saying that they wished the venues would remain shut:
“It’s deeply concerning that government-funded research draws on the opinions of ten anonymous individuals whose list of reforms literally involve ‘wishing’ for things to happen. A wish list is not a solid foundation for public policy, and it’s disappointing that such a skewed research design, supported by the opinions and wishes of ten anonymous individuals is being put forward as serious policy evidence.”
Jackson added that while it was important to recognise and combat any increases in gambling-related harm, the extent of the harm should be measured through responsibly collected studies and should be tackled using policies and measures based on strong evidence.
This is the second time in recent months that the RWA has spoken out against studies that it feels are sensationalist in their picture of Australian gambling habits. Back in June, RWA said that historical consumer credit data was being employed to suggest there had been a spike in gambling during the pandemic. Multiple Australia media outlets relied on this evidence to report increases in problem gambling during the lockdown. The RWA in response said that there had simply been a shift from retail venues to online gambling, a trend that had been replicated in other economic sectors.