USYD Research Centre Funded by Gambling Giants

The University of Sydney has been in hot water once again, this time for funding their new gambling research centre with thousands of dollars from major gambling corporations. The University asserts the relationship with gaming companies will better the quality of research, but many analysts aren’t buying the claim. And it isn’t the first time USYD has been criticised for its questionable funding practices.

The Centre of Excellence in Gambling Research (CoEGR) was launched in mid-August by the University, and is openly linked with gambling giants through funding channels. The International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG) committed $600,000 in funding to the research facility, a contribution that was crucial to CoEGR’s establishment.

ICRG is described by USYD as “a global leader in research and education on gambling disorder and responsible gambling”. But among its major funders are major gambling corporations including MGM Resorts International, Caesars Foundation, Boyd Gaming Corporation, DraftKings, and the poker machine company, IGT. ICRG’s board of directors includes executives from US-based casino resorts.

Besides the chunk of funding from ICRG, USYD’s CoEGR and its research will also be supported Sportsbet and Entain – a gaming company that runs the Ladbrokes and Neds brands in Australia. However, the value of Sportsbet and Entain contributions has not been disclosed by the University.

An ‘Unprecedented’ Partnership

CoEGR’s leader is Professor Sally Gainsbury, from the Brain and Mind Centre and School of Psychology in USYD’s Faculty of Science. Professor Gainsbury views the heavyhanded involvement of gambling companies in her research as a positive: while she agrees the partnership is “unprecedented”, she asserts that “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.”

Professor Gainsbury believes the partnership is a positive step, not a conflict of interest.

USYD maintains that the Centre is subject to rigorous standards, and all its research is approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee.

Its gambling partners, including Sportsbet and Entain, have also expressed their certainty that there is no conflict of interest in the venture. Sportsbet’s spokesperson asserted its funding would “influence any outcomes” or “affect…integrity” of research projects. And Entain decried the “tendency for discussions around the impacts of gambling harm to be led by speculation and emotional rhetoric”.

But other academics and politicians strongly disagree.

It’s troubling in part because it normalises the relationship with research institutions and the gambling industry,” says Associate Professor Sean Cowlishaw, a Public Health expert from Monash University’s Institute for Brain and Mental Health. “It’s quite unprecedented for such a prestigious academic institution in Australia to formalise this sort of funding relationship with gambling industry groups and to frame this as some form of centre for excellence.”

The Alliance for Gambling Reform, as well as the Australian Medical Association – both major voices on harm minimisation on this issue – have expressed their concern over the partnership.

The news is particularly troubling given this year’s report into the increasing harm caused by gambling, especially towards young people. Studies show gambling industry funding is associated with favourable policy decisions to gaming companies.

USYD’s History with Questionable Funding

And CoERG is far from the first time USYD has been questioned over murky funding links.

At the end of last year, the University announced they would renew their partnership with French defence giant Thales. Thales has been widely criticised for their suppression of union movements, underpaying workers by millions and massive cutbacks in Australian employment. They’ve also funded PhD projects and industry placements for USYD.

And earlier this year, an investigation by the University’s student paper, Honi Soit, unveiled millions of dollars worth of shares USYD had purchased in oil giants in 2022. As of 2022, USYD owned over 314,000 shares in BHP, and purchased tens of thousands of shares in Rio Tinto, Shell, and BP, despite espousing ‘climate friendly’ rhetoric.

Cover image by Erik Mclean on Unsplash.

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