Sunday, 11 October 2015

Get to know SPHPM’s pre-eminent pokies expert Dr Charles Livingstone

This week our latest SPHPM blog profile features Senior Lecturer Dr Charles Livingstone, who began teaching at the School 10 years ago and regularly contributes to public debate on issues of gambling reform.

Q: What is your role here at SPHPM?
I am a Senior Lecturer and teach undergraduates in the Bachelor of Health Science degree, mainly health policy, global health challenges and health politics. I also co-ordinate the Honours program and supervise a number of Higher Degree Research (HDR) students. Along with that, I undertake research in gambling policy and regulation and the nature of gambling addiction particularly poker machine gambling.

Q: You’ve been a vocal advocate for gambling reform? How did you begin to specialise in this research area?
Some years ago I was working on a project in local government around heroin use and its public health consequences. At that time, this was a huge and highly visible issue. However, as that issue became better addressed, I realised that poker machine gambling had crept up on us and was becoming a major problem, particularly in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. The public health consequences of this were alarming and that lead to me taking up an interest in the issue.

Q: You’ve written before about ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ responses to public health crises, how can this be applied to gambling reform and policy?
Downstream public health responses treat the consequences of a specific problem – so treatment and support for recovery are downstream responses to gambling problems. Upstream responses address the causes of the problem; and prevent people from getting into trouble. For example, good regulation, restrictions on aggressive advertising, and reducing the harmful capacity of poker machines are all upstream approaches likely to prevent the formation of problems in the first place. Downstream responses are entirely necessary, but are only part of the picture. Unfortunately, government and industry focus almost entirely on downstream responses in the gambling field at present, and opportunities for prevention are not utilised.

Q: How do you view the online sports betting industry developing mobile and tablet gambling apps in light of Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s ‘responsible gambling’ message?
These all offer considerable challenges and are likely to produce a new segment of the population with serious gambling issues. The target group for these products are young men and we can expect that there will be quite an increase in the number of young men developing serious gambling problems in the next few years. Regulation of this segment is not particularly effective at present and there are few restrictions on advertising, which is lucrative for sporting codes and broadcasters. There are huge challenges ahead.

Q: What other exciting new projects are you involved in at the moment?
I’ve been working closely with colleagues on the development of a set of principles to improve the integrity of gambling research, which is unfortunately a fairly conflicted area at present, with much industry influence, resulting in a poor evidence base. This is where I feel a lot of improvement can come from a modest investment. I’m also working closely with HDR students on improving gambling regulation via some fairly painstaking research into administrative and regulatory practices, and this is starting to show some positive results.

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