Gambling advocacy: lessons from tobacco, alcohol and junk food
To explore the attitudes and opinions of public health experts in gambling and related unhealthy commodity industries towards the tactics used by the gambling industry to prevent reform and the advocacy responses to these tactics.
The researchers aimed to compare responses with expert opinions from established public health advocates working in alcohol and junk food. The researchers explored three research questions:
- What are the tactics that the gambling industry uses to prevent reform?
- Are these tactics similar to those of other unhealthy commodity industries?
- What types of advocacy strategies may be most useful in responding to these tactics?
In‐depth interviews (30–60 minutes) with a convenience sample of 15 public health experts and stakeholders with a public health approach to gambling (n=10), or other unhealthy commodity industries (food, alcohol, tobacco, n=5).
Participants described the influences of political lobbying and donations on public policy, and industry framing of problem gambling as an issue of personal responsibility.
Industry funding of, and influence over, academic research was considered to be one of the most effective industry tactics to resist reform.
Political donations and the revenue derived from the alcohol and junk food industries made it difficult for governments to commit to regulatory reform:
You see the government with a toe in each side of the water … they’re getting funding through various methods of junk food and also alcohol organisations. We see realistically them having one hand tied behind their back when it comes to speaking with people like me because they are getting such good revenue coming through the door from these organisations.” – M2
There is similar evidence from public records in Australia about political donations from both tobacco and alcohol44 industries. This influence may also explain why governments and the gambling industry implement strategies that ultimately have a limited impact on reducing gambling‐related harm but protect both government revenue and industry profits.
Further, researchers working in the area of alcohol have shown that these discourses from industry are used to promote their products rather than convey the relevant public health information.
Participants felt there was a need to build stronger coalitions and collaborations between independent academics, and to improve the utilisation of media to more effectively shift perceptions of gambling harm away from the individual and towards the product.
Conclusions and implications
Given the similarities between the tactics employed by the gambling industry and the tactics of other unhealthy commodity industries, it is important that public health advocates work together to share ideas and experiences and support each other. Gambling advocates should seek to learn from the experiences of others working in other similar unhealthy commodity areas and, where possible, form collaborative partnerships and a national coalition against gambling harm.
Gambling industry tactics are similar to the tactics of other unhealthy commodity industries. However, advocacy initiatives to counter these tactics in gambling are less developed than in other areas. The formation of national public health coalitions, as well as a strong evidence base regarding industry tactics, will help to strengthen advocacy initiatives.
Most importantly, public health advocates need to remain mindful that the aim of public health advocacy initiatives is to reduce community harm. This study highlights the fact that responding to the tactics of powerful industries such as gambling is not easy, but is essential in reducing the harm caused to some of our most vulnerable communities.