Tuesday, May 24, 2005

State axes problem gambling research

Melbourne: The State Government has abandoned research into problem gambling's links to crime and depression, prompting criticism from gaming reform advocates.

It has also shelved studies into the media's role in influencing gambling behaviour and an analysis of gaming operators' loyalty programs.

Research into cultural influences on gambling and the early detection of problem gamblers has also been cancelled.

The decision not to proceed with the research - set by Victoria's recently abolished independent Gambling Research Panel - comes as the Government faces pressure to release completed gambling studies.

Confidential research revealed last month found Labor's policy of moving gaming machines from low-income areas had failed to stem problem gambling. This research, and at least two other gambling studies, are yet to be released.

Interchurch Gambling Taskforce chairman John Dalziel said the cancellation of the studies, particularly those examining crime and depression, was disappointing.

Mr Dalziel, a member of the Responsible Gambling Ministerial Advisory Council, said research into crime and depression was urgently required.

"Crime and depression are two key elements of measuring the social impact of gambling," Mr Dalziel said. "I think that research had the industry and the Government worried because it had the potential for being so negative that it would become absolutely clear gambling in certain areas should not be allowed."

Former Gambling Research Panel chairwoman Linda Hancock said shelving the research meant there would be no new gambling research in Victoria for at least 12 months.

Professor Hancock said the Government should do more research on the impact of problem gambling. And studies into gambling and crime and depression should be a priority.

Responsible Gambling Advocate Kerrie Cross is in charge of gambling research following last December's demise of the research panel.

She is yet to develop a research agenda but has signalled she favours a national approach.

The recently revealed confusion in senior Government ranks over the future of the study into gambling and crime.

Ms Cross said last month she did not believe the study was appropriate for her to do.

But Gaming Minister John Pandazopoulos said the research would be valuable.

Senior counsel Philip Dunn said research into gambling's links to crime was essential because the courts were becoming clogged with people who had gambling problems.

Opposition gaming spokesman Ken Smith said the Government was "crazy" to cancel the research and the Gambling Research Panel should be reinstated.

Debate over the research comes as the Government seeks to replace two key staff members from its gambling policy area.

Sources say that the Government's director of gambling policy and research, Michael Wheelahan, has decided to take up another public service position. Ms Cross's assistant, Leigh Barrett, has quit to join gaming giant Tabcorp.

By Richard Baker posted 24


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