Some public health eyebrows shot to the ceiling earlier this year when news broke that Professor John Horvath, a former Commonwealth chief medical officer, was joining the board of the Crown Ltd.

According to the NHMRC website, Horvath remains actively engaged in health policy, as chair of the Council’s health care committee and as principal medical consultant for the Australian Department of Health and Ageing.  Horvath, formerly a specialist renal physician at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, is also quite famous as one of the late Kerry Packer’s physicians.

His appointment takes on a new significance today, following the Public Health Association of Australia’s decision to endorse a new policy urging universities and researchers to disentangle from the gambling industry.

Professor Helen Keleher, the new president of the PHHA, writes:

“The Public Health Association of Australia has today called on universities and research institutes to refuse to accept funding from the gambling industry and will be asked to sign a charter of gambling research integrity.

The lack of appropriate regulation of the gambling industry has seen exponential growth in gambling losses particularly in states and territories where electronic gaming machines are allowed in hotels and clubs and massive growth in the marketing and promotion of gambling products.

Gambling promotion at sporting venues, through sports sponsorship, and in all forms of media where sport scores and sport information are provided, are at unprecedented levels.

For a significant number of people, gambling is a dangerous consumption. Children are being steadily socialised into a normalizing of gambling activities through constant exposure to gambling products. Gambling marketing increasingly includes the marketing of venues as ‘child-friendly’ using incentives including children’s playgrounds, children’s amusement machines emulating gambling machines, and discounted or free children’s meals offered at gambling venues.

Governments have policies and programs aimed at reducing the harm caused to people experiencing the effects of problem gambling. (http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/87869/sub205.pdf)

Yet, despite this commitment, little is being done to adopt a public health approach to manage the gambling industry’s access to current and potential consumers of gambling products and there is a need for effective population measures to prevent people from the harms of excess gambling.

Research activity has not generally been focused on harm reduction, health promotion or consumer safety issues and has been substantially funded by organisations with a vested interest in research outcomes.  In many such cases, the orientation of research appears to have been affected by the funding source.

The Public Health Association of Australia believes that public health agencies, researchers, health services and sporting organisations should not accept gambling industry funding.

The PHAA has taken the position that it will not accept funding from the gambling industry and announced that it will strenuously advocate to ensure that public sector universities, research institutes or affiliated organisations do not accept funding support from gambling industries for research, or for any other purpose.

Further, there is a conflict of interest for sporting bodies and other organisations which have received health promotion funding, to also accept gambling industry money.  Governments and other bodies which provide funding for health promotion should ensure that those organisations are not also engaged in the promotion of gambling.”

The PHAA policy on Gambling Industry Funding will be available on PHAA’s website next week. If you want a copy in the meantime, contact the PHAA on (02) 6285 2373.

* PostScipt. According to The Age, Horvath will chair a new responsible gaming committee for Crown. A Crown statement released to the ASX said the new gaming committee would be responsible for ”overseeing and enhancing Crown’s responsible gaming programs and performance”.

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