Shane Lucas, photo: Paul Jeffers
One year after the world was engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Victorians are hopeful that a transition from COVID-normal to a post-COVID life is on the horizon.
We know that social isolation, boredom and the anxiety caused by lockdowns and restrictions played out in the gambling environment. Since the reopening of gaming venues, Victorian pokies expenditure in December 2020 returned to the same amount as December 2019, while pokies expenditure in January 2021 increased by $15 million, or 6.5 per cent, compared to January 2020. The local government areas where losses have increased by more than 6.5 per cent are communities that have higher socio-economic disadvantage and are therefore more likely to experience gambling harm.
We know that social isolation…played out in the gambling environment.
Due to social distancing requirements, fewer pokies are currently in operation, so an overall increase in losses is concerning. Some spring back in demand after the COVID-19 lockdown of venues was to be expected. The figures for March and April will be significant for working out whether the increase in expenditure is more than just pent-up demand.
Royal Commission recommendations
The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System delivered its final report on 3 February 2021. There were 65 recommendations with implementation to be overseen by Mental Health Reform Victoria. With the Foundation estimating that gambling harm accounts for 22 per cent of Victoria’s mental health sector costs, I draw your attention to two key recommendations.
Recommendation 35 covers improving outcomes for people living with mental illness and substance use or addiction. In part, it recommends that government ‘provide integrated treatment, care and support to people living with mental illness and substance use or addiction; and do not exclude consumers living with substance use or addiction from accessing treatment, care and support’.
The social connection…recommendations sit well alongside the Foundation’s prevention work.
Recommendation 36 concerns the establishment of a new statewide specialist service for people living with mental illness and substance use or addiction, and an increase in ‘the number of addiction medicine physicians and addiction psychiatrists’.
Many of the social connection and wellbeing-related recommendations sit well alongside the Foundation’s prevention work. For example, the Commission considers that supports should link people to local activities and groups focused on mental health and wellbeing such as peer support, group programs, and social skills development and training. Particular emphasis is also placed on providing connections to other supports, including for gambling issues.
‘Evidence indicates that wellbeing support programs can form successful partnerships with non‑mental health services—such as homelessness and housing services, Aboriginal services and correctional services—to provide more holistic support for people.’
Advocacy is critical
The establishment of a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act and Commission represent opportunities for the Foundation to advocate within government for the specific recognition of gambling within the addiction category.
Similarly, we will continue to work with other agencies and communities to ensure people who experience gambling harm can be referred to appropriate services across the mental health, alcohol and other drugs, homelessness, and family violence sectors.
The Foundation has accepted all the recommendations.
This was one of the eight recommendations made by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office to the Foundation in its report, Reducing the harm caused by gambling, which was tabled in the Victorian Parliament on 18 March.
The Foundation has accepted all the recommendations and developed an action plan to deliver them. Many relate to the implementation of an outcomes-based performance framework, the development of which is already well advanced as a key priority in our 2020–21 strategic plan.
I’d like to thank those of you who participated in the audit. We value all insights into, and opportunities for, strengthening our performance and remain committed to addressing gambling harm in collaboration with our partners through evidence-based treatment and support, prevention, early intervention, and information and education activities and programs.
Gambling harm and mental health
This month we launch our Gambling harm in mind event series.
On 22 March, ‘Integrating multicultural approaches to address gambling harm’ will consider how to connect with people from multicultural backgrounds while acknowledging their cultural, political and social identities, and apply these principles in support services.
On 25 March, ‘Understanding the effects of COVID-19 on the gambling environment’ will focus on gambling and the lockdowns.
On 29 March, ‘Resilience and coping with change’ will examine how individuals, organisations and societies tolerate change and explore advancements in fields such as neuroscience to help people manage or overcome the effects of gambling harm and addiction in their lives.
All are welcome to join these free online events. More information is available here.