Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Free lunch? Consultancy and gambling research

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Last year I was invited to write an editorial in International Gambling Studies based on Fair Game. The responses to that editorial have just been published, and, as expected they include a strong defence of the status quo.

I welcome the opportunity to engage with colleagues about the structure of funding gambling research. After all, the question for all of us is: have we got it right? Will the current structures enable us to better understand the impact of gambling on our communities? Are they the best possible way to produce independent advice for the public and policy makers?

Mark Griffiths (MG) and Michael Auer (MA) argue that ‘research and consultancy are two very separate activities’ with different aims and ‘the real issue is whether doing consultancy with the gambling industry in any way impacts on independently funded and subsequently published gambling research.’ Their answer is emphatically no: ‘We believe the gambling industry can benefit from our expertise and that there is nothing morally wrong in what we do. To us, this is totally separate from research activity.’majust_edit-1-2

I think they need to elaborate. How is this total separation achieved? The interests of operators and research intended to inform policy makers and the public are not identical, or even easily reconciled: they could be loosely tagged as profit versus public health. Can we really expect individuals to set aside their relationship with the industry when they work for the public sector and vice versa? Are researchers funded by the industry equally ‘free’ to critique their activities as those who do not accept their support? What about industry funded published research? How is this to be accommodated within their binary opposition?

MA is Business Unit Manager, Responsible Gaming, at neccton. neccton ‘support(s) gaming companies when it comes to improving their customer experience’. Speaking in Casino International in April 2013 he describes how “We [MG and MA] did one analysis with the data from Austrian Lotteries, who are the only internet gaming operator in Austria. In return for using our software, we used their data to publish scientific papers.” How are reciprocal arrangements such as this to be understood? Consultancy? Or research?

MG and MA ask what I think is a rhetorical question:

If an invited speaker is provided with a business-class flight that has at least in part (or in full) been paid by the gambling industry, does that really have any influence on that person’s published research? (Griffiths and Auer 2015: 3)

I think that the answer to this question is, obviously, yes. I suspect that MG and MA think that the answer is, equally obviously, no. What do other people think? Is there such a thing as a free lunch / flight after all?

MG thinks it’s ironic that I attended an industry sponsored conference in Las Vegas, ‘Was Cassidy herself at all influenced by the fact that she was attending a conference subsidized (in part) by many international gambling companies?’ My answer is that I was indeed influenced by this experience, and many others like it. Encounters during fieldwork (funded by the ERC) informed my understanding of how gambling research is produced. They encouraged me to drag discussions taking place in the margins of conferences into the spotlight where we could submit them to greater scrutiny.

MG agrees that researchers are under increasing pressure to bring research money into our universities. While writing this blog I’ve been sent an email by an ‘Enterprise Officer’ at Goldsmiths urging me to apply to the RGT call for research into remote gambling. This speaks to MG and MA’s first point about the separation of consultancy and research. MG is an established and highly decorated academic. Will an early career scholar, under pressure from her institution, be equally capable of resisting the temptation to please her funder in order to increase the chances of securing more money?

An early career scholar may be acutely aware of conflicts of interest, but also needs to publish, secure a permanent position, pay the mortgage and so on… Is it right to place this much pressure on researchers? Is it right to locate responsibility for the integrity of the research with the individual, rather than seeking to embed it in the structure of research funding? Or should we give the funding to research councils and protect them from some, but not all, of these dilemmas?

I totally agree with MG and MA that researchers need access to data. They suggest collaborating with industry. I want access to be part of licensing. In this I happily inhabit the ‘ideal’ rather than ‘real world’.

What’s the point of our work if we simply accept things the way they are, while simultaneously acknowledging their shortcomings?

If we defend what is possible right now then how can we ever change what might be possible in the future?

Rebecca Cassidy

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Written by samkelly2014

March 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Posted in News

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on rethinkgambling.

    rethinkg

    March 19, 2015 at 12:29 pm


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