Ontario Orders Closure of Gambling Research Exchange Ontario
Ontario has announced its decision to stops funding problem gambling research agency GREO. By the summer, the organisation will no longer be operational.
Background To GREO Development
In April, Ontario Premier Doug Ford introduced his budget proposal for the new year. It contained quite a few gambling-related items, too. Legalized online poker and casino games were included, as well as a push for a federal government consideration of legalized single-event sports betting. He wanted people to be able to purchase lottery tickets via mobile devices, bars to serve alcohol beginning at 9am, and casinos to offer complimentary drinks to customers.
Of course, any budget is going to offer cuts in order to fund new projects. One significant cut took some by surprise, though. It was the cut to the entire $2.5 million annual budget for Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO).
Ontario’s government agreed the cut. All 14 staff members at GREO were subsequently told that the organisation will close by the middle of July.
That means all of the employees will lose their jobs, and the province will lose a gambling research organization. This all happens at a time when the province is expanding its gambling options.
What is GREO?
Originally established as the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre (OPGRC) in 2000, the organisation focussed on researching problem gambling and quickly became one of the preeminent bodies of its kind on a global level.
Between 2000 and 2013, problem gambling research and education received nearly $40 million of funding. The results included new initiatives, high-level researchers, and a stronger understanding of how to detect, treat, and prevent problems related to gambling. The organisation also made solid connections within the community and influenced policies.
In April 2015, OPGRC transitioned to GREO and has since continued its pursuit of using its research to eliminate gambling harm and affect gambling-related policies, standards, and practices. Through numerous relationships with researchers, government officials, and gambling regulators, GREO focussed on prevention and treatment of gambling problems.
GREO operated most recently as an “independent knowledge translation and exchange (KTE) organisation” and operated within a BET funding program. This helped fund community initiatives and work with targeted groups to minimise risks.
Effectively, GREO focussed on several specific ways to impact Ontario:
- Knowledge Hubs reached into communities with evidence-based solutions.
- State of Evidence Reviews offer answers to frequently asked questions.
- The Conceptual Framework on Harmful Gambling formed a basis for prevention measures.
- Collaboration brought key individuals together to create solutions.
- Knowledge Hubs and student workshops translated research into real-world possibilities.
- The Evidence Centre provided access to gambling research and resources.
Government Budget Cuts
As the Progressive Conservatives in the Ontario government sought to cut costs, GREO was on that list. Consequently, it will now close entirely by mid-July 2019. The move will save the government $2.5 million each year.
GREO employees have expressed their disappointment. As has CEO Trudy Smit Ouosai, who said: “Ontario has been an international leader prior to this and … people have looked to (us) as a model to minimise harm from gambling,” she said to CBC News. “We’re hoping to find ways to keep the work of GREO going, but we are concerned about that being lost.”
Specifically, she expressed concern about what may happen to nearly 20 years of research, data, and documentation.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott expects an “effective and respectful” closure of GREO and plans to redirect all “available resources to the front lines.” It is true that the government will continue to appropriate nearly $33 million to programs dedicated to problem gambling, but it remains unclear as to why GREO was closed after such a long history in Ontario.
Many in the community are concerned about the GREO closure, especially amidst a rise in gambling options. Meanwhile, others wonder about future resources allocation. Especially as it pertains to the problem gambling information that GREO used to provide to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLGC) and the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission.
Unclear Closure Process
At the time of the announcement, GREO staff was unclear about how to distribute or store the decades of information. There have been no instructions as to a similar group that would use the data or pick up where GREO leaves off.
The staff will vacate their posts by the middle of July. It is unknown whether they will be receive any kind of severance pay.
GREO will be seeking further instruction from the Ontario government as to how to proceed.