If gambling policy was evidence based, what would it look like?

Mr Robin Burgess

Director, Responsibility in Gambling Trust

Robin Burgess is the Director of the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, the UK national body which commissions treatment, prevention and research into problem gambling.

Robin has worked for over twenty years in the addiction field, as CEO of a large voluntary sector provider agency, and policy maker in government and outside. Most recently he led on community policy in the Home Office drug strategy directorate, with responsibility for policing, crack strategy, housing, regeneration, prostitution and homelessness related to drugs.

Robin has published a range of policy and practice guides on various aspects of addiction. He has been a trustee of several national policy and practice agencies and has a strong commitment to the voluntary sector.

What is the role of ‘evidence’ in the real world? What is ‘evidence’ – and how can it be examined critically?  How do we turn evidence into policy?

However idealistic the desire to be evidence based, policy making is inevitably driven by economic and political considerations balanced against moral, ethical and social concerns and prevalent psychological theories. The evidence available on which to make policy is itself commissioned and created through the impact of these forces and interpreted in their light. The paper will examine these as they relate to gambling.

In an ideal world, the commissioning of evidence should ensure that policy makers have access to the widest, most objective range of data to support their decisions, and in utilising this, their perspective should be as free as possible from ideological selectivity. No area of harm would thus be off limits; no area of industry practice excluded from rigorous examination for the harm it may cause, and the results used to inform a regulatory and policy framework. Likewise no ideological perspective on addiction should be used to screen out theories and approaches that may have validity and can demonstrate evidence of their effectiveness. Yet both happen. The paper will explore how policy makers can escape the implications.

At the present time, for gambling we do not have enough evidence. We need to know far more about the psychology and behaviour of problem gamblers. We need to know more about how the agent or technology of gambling leads to harm. In terms of treatment and prevention, and especially the latter, work is in its infancy. There are transferability questions to the UK context of the body of North American and Australasian research. Given this lack of evidence of the highest quality, how do we make policy whilst the evidence base grows? The paper will address how in the UK the network of commissioners of research into gambling plans to begin the address these issues and develop the evidence base, and how policy makers must play their roles as it develops.