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Sydney University Launches New Gambling Research Hub

The University of Sydney recently announced the creation of an industry-backed gambling research centre, sparking debate about academic independence. The new initiative aims to conduct real-world trials of responsible gambling tools. But its funding sources have drawn criticism from public health experts.

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About the Sydney University Launch

The Centre of Excellence in Gambling Research (CoEGR) will be led by University of Sydney Professor Sally Gainsbury, who heads the university’s Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic. The centre has received $600,000 in initial funding from the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG) who’s supporters include major international gambling and casino groups.

Additional funding is being provided by Australian betting giants Sportsbet and Entain Australia. However, the exact amounts and nature of support are unclear.

Collaboration With the Industry

A key aspect of the CoEGR is its focus on collaborating with gambling operators. Professor Gainsbury will work with companies to access anonymised customer data. The centre will then analyse gambler behaviours and trial new responsible gambling tools.

Advocates argue this partnership approach is essential. It provides opportunities to directly test intervention impacts that have not existed before. Access to detailed industry datasets will allow robust real-world trials.

But others have challenged the wisdom of academic-industry partnerships in gambling. Public health experts like Monash University’s Associate Professor Sean Cowlishaw argue it risks undermining research independence. Some academics have called the funding model unprecedented and claimed it gives operators undue influence.

Balancing Independence & Impact

The University of Sydney maintains that despite industry funding, it retains full control over research. Strict protocols will be followed to protect integrity. The centre believes engaging with operators is vital to ensure findings translate into meaningful outcomes that benefit the public.

However, detractors argue that even absent editorial control, deeper links between academics and businesses funding research can influence findings. Industry funding may also give operators an unhealthy role in solving problems associated with their own products.

Betting Industry Under Scrutiny

The launch comes after a federal inquiry into online gambling proposed protections from industry interference which called for restrictions on gambling advertising and sports partnerships.

With over $24 billion lost annually to gambling in Australia, preventing commercial influence in policy is considered critical. But businesses argue that minimising gambling harm requires including their perspectives.

The University of Sydney controversy highlights the tricky balance needed. Engaging with industry can aid real-world impact but may compromise independence. Critics argue the risks outweigh the potential benefits.

Striking an optimal balance will prove one of the key challenges as the new research centre begins operating. Its success may ultimately hinge on how well it manages perceptions around virtousness.