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Use of natural experiment for gambling related harm?

The issue

The cessation of gambling during the early stages of the COVID-19 response provides a potential avenue for understanding the impact of gambling on the region. Research suggests ‘natural experiments’ are a useful way to understand the impact of policy decisions and actions that occur in real time. However, there is little  understanding relating to the conduct and usefulness of applying a natural experiment design to evaluating and measuring complex issues like gambling-related harm. The challenge for natural experiments is adequately capturing the complex pathways between an ‘intervention’ (policy decision or action) and the various elements that might influence what this means for health, wellbeing, and equity.


Research has shown harms related to gambling reflect social and health inequalities, negative effects unequally distributed among economically and socially disadvantaged groups, and are commonly associated with a range of mental and physical health issues. Furthermore, evidence shows this group is more vulnerable to harmful gambling when experiencing financial distress or hardship, which is more prevalent during the pandemic. In 2017-18, total gambling turnover (i.e., the total amount wagered) in Australia was $218.9 billion.  During the first wave of COVID-19, Australians saved approximately $1.5 billion, which would otherwise have gone into pokie machines, due to the closure of pubs and clubs across the nation. The New South Wales (NSW) Government allowed clubs and pubs to reopen their gambling rooms on June 1, 2020. 

The project

The project involves conducting a rapid review of the literature to assess the appropriateness and usefulness of using natural experiment methodology to evaluate or measure gambling-related harm on health, wellbeing and health equity. The output of the project may be (a) a report; (b) a peer reviewed publication.


Patrick Harris or Andrew Reid

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