Regulator scraps Manitoba Gambling Research Fund

Manitoba casino gambling research loses $1m annual funding budget.

Manitoba Casino Gambling Research Program Funds ScrappedManitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MLL) is changing up its funding budget for 2018. Earlier this year, the provincial gaming regulator decided to scarp its annual $1,000,000 Gambling Research Program budget, which funded grants for researchers. It wasn’t until a local student tried applying for a grant that word got out.

Manitoba Gambling Addict Turned Researcher

Six years ago, 24 year old Long Zhou moved to Canada from China. Gambling is illegal in his home country, but that didn’t stop his father from introducing him to it at a young age. When he arrived in Manitoba, where gambling is legal, he took full advantage.

Before long, Zhou came to the realization he was an addict. Now at 30 years old, and $100,000 lighter, he’s doing his best to turn his life around, and hopefully help others at the same time. “I don’t want my life ruined over gambling so I decided … to come to university and take psychology to get to know myself better,” he told CBC News Manitoba.

No Manitoba Gambling Research Grant for Long Zhou, photo CBC NewsZhou’s desire is to better understand the psychology of gambling addiction. “I want to know what are the motivations behind people engaging in gambling and what kind of things that we can do, programs we can design to effectively help people get over gambling addiction.”

He worked long and hard designing a gambling simulation experiment to measure the efficacy of responsible gambling advertisements at land-based casinos. But when he applied for an academic grant to help fund his behavioral research project, that’s when he found out the bitter reality.

Manitoba Casino Gambling Research Funds Scrapped

As it turns out, the MLL quietly phased out funds for its long-time Gambling Research Program at the start of 2018. The regulator, which allocates an average of $12 million each year towards its social responsibility budget, is no longer putting $1 million of that towards research grants.

Linda Taylor, former chair of the research council that was responsible for facilitating the grants, was disconcerted by the news.

“I’m disappointed that the government should choose to phase it out. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” argues Taylor. “It is really clear that there is a need to be doing research which is accountable to the public and is transparent.”

In her opinion, the program was flawed to being with. As the former chair, she believes that grants were often rejected for study wherein the research might take a negative toll on the government’s sizable gambling revenue stream. “There wasn’t enough outreach, in my view, going on,” she says.

Bev Mehmel, MLL Director of Corporate Responsibility, is defending the regulator’s decision to cut research funding. “We are refocusing our efforts on internal projects,” explains Mehmel.

“We fund addictions agencies,” she continues. “We really need to be doing more program evaluations to ensure that the programs that we’re funding are meeting their goals and they’re effective.”

She adds that some of the money that was eliminated from the grant program will still go towards research. However, that research will take place internally.

MLL Denying Research Based on Conflict of Interest?

Taylor was especially displeased with the decision to fund internal research, arguing that, if anything, research needs to be more independent from the MLL. She says that curbing Manitoba gambling addiction would work against the government’s annual revenue yield, thus any research to thwart problem gambling on a widespread level would likely be denied a grant anyway.

“If we were wanting to do something that directly contradicted them, I think that wouldn’t have been able to go through,” contends Taylor.

As for Long Zhou, when he found out that his grant application could not be approved, he took matters into his own hands. He’s been conducting and funding his own Manitoba casino gambling research in a small lab at the University of Brandon. He hopes to wrap up his study before the end of April.

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