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AMA tells University of Sydney to ‘read the room’ over research funded by gambling industry

The University of Sydney has defended the sponsorship from the International Center for Responsible Gaming. It is funded by some of the world’s largest casino and gambling companies.

The Australian Medical Association has demanded the University of Sydney “read the room” and reconsider its decision to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from the gambling industry, while the Greens want the money immediately returned.

The university’s Centre of Excellence in Gambling Research was launched this week after receiving a $600,000 funding commitment from the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG), which the university has described as “a global leader in research and education on gambling disorder and responsible gambling”.

The ICRG’s major funders are some of the world’s biggest casino and gambling companies. They include MGM Resorts International, Caesars Foundation, Bally’s Corporation, Sands Inc, Wynn Resorts, Boyd Gaming Corporation, DraftKings, FanDuel, poker machine company IGT and many other entities. Its board of directors includes executives from US-based casino resorts.

The university has also disclosed the centre’s research will also be supported by the Australian wagering giant Sportsbet, which is owned by Dublin-based company Flutter, and Entain, which runs the Ladbrokes and Neds brands in Australia. The value of that support was not disclosed.

The university has defended the sponsorship and told Guardian Australia the partnership would deliver more useful research informed by de-identified data supplied by gambling companies. It also said bookmakers would not be given any opportunity to “constrain or edit the research in any way”.

But Dr Steve Robson, the president of the Australian Medical Association, did not accept that assurance and called on the university to reconsider the funding arrangement.

“As both the federal president of the Australian Medical Association and a University of Sydney alumnus, I am calling on the university leadership to reflect on the credibility that industry-funded research will have with the community and read the room,” Robson said.

“I’d be very concerned about industry funding of gambling research. This is exactly the issue we see with tobacco companies funding vaping research, big alcohol funding research, and fossil fuel ‘thinktanks.’”

Robson said there was evidence gambling industry funding was associated with favourable policy decisions. He highlighted a 2020 study by Maggie Johnson and Charles Livingston, published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory and titled “Measuring influence: an analysis of Australian gambling industry political donations and policy decisions”.

The deputy Greens leader, Mehreen Faruqi, called on the university to return the money. She said the partnership was “a toxic feature of the broken corporate university model”.

“Sydney University needs to hand back the money and rule out any future partnerships with the gambling industry, which only serve to launder the industry’s reputation at the expense of research integrity,” Faruqi said in a statement.

“This stinks to high heavens! This is a shocking example of a morally bankrupt, ruthless industry getting its dirty tentacles into university and research institutions.”

A university spokesperson said it was “acutely aware of the need to avoid conflicts of interest”.

“All research has approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee, which includes consideration of the impact of the research,” the spokesperson said.

“All research contracts ensure that results can be published and funding bodies have no ability to be involved in the conduct or outcomes of the research. Government regulators are regularly consulted and are well aware of the program of research.

“Working with industry partners ensures that research is implementation-ready and our researchers have a strong track record of positive influence on harm reduction policies.”

In response to earlier inquiries, the Centre of Excellence in Gambling Research’s leader, Prof Sally Gainsbury, said the partnership with gambling companies would “allow us to translate research findings into effective real world, evidence-informed strategies to prevent and reduce gambling-related harms”.

“Having access to major gambling operators is essential as it means we can conduct live trials and test the efficacy of interventions designed to encourage positive behavioural change,” she said.

“Our collaboration means gambling operators will share de-identified data on gambling behaviours and allow us to evaluate new interventions. Being able to create a dataset with a high level of detail on gamblers will be of immense value and has not been done before. This is a significant development in gambling research.”


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