Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Fair Game launch – a frank exchange of views

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At the launch of Fair Game, the Gambling in Europe team were joined by esteemed academics Peter Adams (University of Auckland), Mark Petticrew, and Justin Parkhurst (both London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) who each gave a paper.

Over at our Goldsmiths pages you can find the full audio recordings and accompanying literature from Peter Adams and Justin Parkhurst’s papers, alongside Rebecca Cassidy’s introduction to the Fair Game report.

A discussion on the current state of gambling research followed, which you can listen to below.

Part one features Steve Donoghue, Marc Etches (RGT), Matt Zarb Cousins (CFG), Jim Orford (Gambling Watch), Peter Adams (University of Auckland), Rebecca Cassidy (Goldsmiths) and Jonathan Wolff (UCL and RGT), among others.

Part two includes contributions from Eddie Chan (CNHLC), Gary Fooks (Bath), Heather Wardle (NatCen), David Miers (RGSB), Liz Karter (Level Ground Therapy) and Adrian Scarfe (Gamcare), among others. At the 22:00 minute mark Jim Orford (Gambling Watch) sums up the discussion and urges us all to ‘clean up our act’.


Written by samkelly2014

November 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in News

Talking about a revolution: incremental change will not redeem gambling research

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Earlier this year Alex Blaszczynski, editor of International Gambling Studies (IGS) invited me to contribute a short editorial about the challenges of publishing gambling research based on Fair Game. In the editorial I described a vicious circle: industry funding rewards work which focuses on benign ideas like responsible gambling and harm minimization which are easily absorbed and encourage a ‘business as usual’ approach.

Cartoon by Jonik

Cartoon by Jonik

I described how early career researchers are faced with a stark choice: either accept industry funding or leave the field and how the current system was underpinned by the social capital of senior researchers willing to accept money from the industry.

I also argued that policies on disclosure of interests, and indeed understandings of what constitutes a conflict of interest are wholly inadequate in the field of gambling studies, particularly when compared to the fields of alcohol, tobacco, food and pharma. I used IGS’s policies to illustrate this failure.

When I received the proofs of my article the text was virtually unchanged, but I was informed by the copy editor that the policy on declarations of interest had changed. The new policy can now be found in the journal’s style sheet.

Many of us believe that interests (and their absence) must be declared at conferences and whenever our data is presented. Conceding this principle is the first step towards a more transparent and accountable field. However, I expect that there will be disagreement about what constitutes a conflict of interest, or indeed an interest that must be declared. The declarations of interest by the editors of IGS, for example, can be found here.

Alex Blaszczynski declares that:

I do not hold any ongoing position, receive ongoing or significant funding, and am not engaged in any business or organisation that creates a conflict of interest (real, perceived, actual or potential) in the work I would conduct as Editor of International Gambling Studies.

The declaration raises as many questions as it answers. For example, what about the $1.2million Blaszczynski received from the NSW clubs industry and leading poker machine makers in May this year?

Is this funding not ‘significant’? Has Blaszczynski chosen to return it? Or does he not consider it a conflict of interest ‘real, perceived, actual or potential’? In which case, what does constitute a conflict of interest in these narrow terms?

I hope that we can continue to discuss these issues in the pages of The Conversation and elsewhere. As Rob Simpson has made clear, research is failing. Incremental changes are not sufficient. A radical overhaul of our entire field is essential if we are to regain public trust.

Rebecca Cassidy

Written by samkelly2014

November 12, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Window dressing: The Senet Group and self-regulation

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The recently founded Senet Group has been formed by four of Britain’s largest gambling companies in response to ‘public concerns on gambling, and gambling advertising in particular’. The group promises that its members will ‘adhere to industry codes of practice, including that of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB)’ and from the 1 October 2014 will:

  • not advertise sign-up offers (free bets and free money) on TV before 9pm
  • not advertise gaming machines in betting shop windows
  • dedicate 20% of shop window advertising to responsible gambling messages

Self-regulation and the adoption of codes of conduct are two of the many well-established strategies to resist external regulation pioneered by the tobacco industry and perfected by the alcohol industry. The ‘Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers’ published in hundreds of US newspapers in 1954 was signed by tobacco executives who went on to preside over a campaign of misinformation fronted by the Tobacco Institute. The youth smoking prevention campaign was particularly effective in staving off regulation, and protecting profits (Landman et al 2002). We know that self-regulation was used strategically and cynically because we have access to thousands of previously secret company documents from the time.Image by Sam Kelly. Dice from 'Roll Through the Ages' published by Gryphon Games

In alcohol, there is extensive documentation of the rhetorical value of self-regulation. A 2014 review of self-regulation marketing (advertising) codes by Babor and Noel found that ‘In countries where systematic procedures have been applied to the evaluation of marketing self-regulation codes, the research strongly indicates a lack of effectiveness in protecting vulnerable populations from objectionable content and exposure.’

Big Food is currently being criticised for failing to learn from these examples (Brownwell and Warner 2009). A 2014 review of self-regulation in the food and beverage industry by Ronit and Jensen found that, ‘commitments in industry self-regulation schemes tend to be relatively vague and permissive, that the measurable effects of the self-regulations tend to be relatively small and that some extent of public regulation may catalyse the effectiveness of industry self-regulation.’ A recent review of the drinks vending machine sector in primary schools in Madrid, for example, showed that compliance with voluntary codes was low and concluded that self-regulation was ineffective (Royo-Bordonada and Martínez-Huedo 2014).

Many will be aware that the gambling industry is exchanging ideas and personnel with tobacco and alcohol. The most recent and obvious examples include Dirk Vennix who came to the ABB from the Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association, and Clarion’s weird styling of the EiG (Excellence in iGaming) conference as some kind of existential, free thinking endeavour which includes Chris Searle former head of the Portman Group as a key speaker.

The Senet Group is inspired by the Portman Group. In 2004 the editors of Addiction described the Portman Group as having ‘consistently propagated interpretations of the research evidence that promote the commercial interests of the drinks industry while seeking to discredit research findings that would lead to effective policy measures supporting the interests of public health’ (Edwards et al 2004).

I agree with some of Steve Donoghue’s observations about the Senet group, but the weakness of his argument about researchers is that he has no knowledge of fields around gambling and of what constitutes good practice in those fields. He writes that:

Those in the academic community who are starving and can’t understand why the industry doesn’t fund them to fulfil their ideological fantasies are already producing methodologically weak arguments that all research commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Trust is completely tainted and purely industry propaganda.

I have never argued that all research commissioned by the RGT is industry propaganda. I have argued that the structural arrangement for funding research is not fit for purpose. Funding for research into areas of ‘dangerous consumption’ including alcohol and gambling should be independent of industry. Like the rhetorical use of self-regulation, this is not controversial in other fields. For example, the British Medical Journal will not accept papers that have received funding from tobacco:

As editors of the BMJ, Heart, Thorax, and BMJ Open we have decided that the journals will no longer consider for publication any study that is partly or wholly funded by the tobacco industry. Our new policy is consistent with those of other journals including PLoS Medicine, PLoS One, PLoS Biology; Journal of Health Psychology; journals published by the American Thoracic Society; and the BMJ’s own Tobacco Control

While Steve Donoghue and others think that gambling researchers are being fussy, or unrealistic, it is actually gambling industry executives, regulators and paid-for researchers in the field of gambling studies who are completely and utterly behind the times and out of touch with basic standards observed in other disciplines. For reasons that are poorly understood (and cannot be easily categorised) industry funding does affect research findings.

The Portman Group was founded in 1989. That the gambling industry could found a similar group in 2014 and expect to be taken seriously is indicative of the generally poor level of debate in the field. Among researchers there is a lack of reflexivity and failure to acknowledge conflicts of interest. There is no credibility or trust in gambling research where academics are available for hire, financial relationships are not acknowledged in publications or at conferences and safe research is rewarded with access and funding. The entire knowledge base has been weakened by the influence of industry. Critics like Jim Orford, Charles Livingstone and Peter Adams have been saying these things for years, but the system is very resilient, underpinned by rhetorical gestures like the founding of the Senet Group.

This is not 1989. There is greater public awareness of the politics of knowledge. People might once have accepted ideas like ‘Responsible Drinking’, which deemphasise the supply of alcohol and focus on the consumer, but my expectation is that they are less prepared to trust the intentions of an industry which has become more aggressive since the Gambling Act. The cynicism of the industry, in creating a body that pre-empts meaningful regulation with window dressing (literally) will be met with the scepticism of the public, who will see this exercise for what it really is.

Rebecca Cassidy



Edwards, G, R West, TF Babor, W Hall, J Marsden, 2004. An invitation to an alcohol industry lobby to help decide public funding of alcohol research and professional training: a decision that should be reversed, Addiction, Volume 99, Issue 10, pages 1235–1236.

Brownell KD, Warner KE. 2009. The perils of ignoring history: Big Tobacco played dirty and millions died. How similar is Big Food? Milbank Q. Mar;87(1):259-94.

Landman A, Ling PM, Glantz SA. 2002. Tobacco industry youth smoking prevention programs: protecting the industry and hurting tobacco control. Am J Public Health. 2002 Jun;92(6):917-30.

Royo-Bordonada, MA, MA Martínez-Huedo 2014. Gaceta Sanitaria, Volume 28, Issue 1, January–February 2014, Pages 65–68.

K Ronit and J D Jensen 2014. Obesity and industry self-regulation of food and beverage marketing: a literature review European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 68, 753-759 (July 2014)

Written by samkelly2014

September 24, 2014 at 10:35 am

Trading in doubt

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RuncimanBlockDavid Runciman’s recent piece on gambling in the London Review of Books, ‘A pound here, a pound there’ – freely accessible to non-subscribers – refers to the Goldsmiths Report to highlight the compromised nature of gambling research funding. Runciman coins a smart phrase to articulate the gambling industry’s keenness to ‘keep research open-ended, because so long as nothing is settled there is always a reason for delaying a decision until more studies are done. Doubt is the currency in which these people are trading.’ Read the full article here.

New Statesman - Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - PDFThe longstanding wait for evidence has stalled the debate on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), and has deferred a political decision on the regulation of these controversial machines. Rebecca Cassidy’s contribution to the New Statesman’s supplement on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals highlights the delay:

The industry asks for reassurance from politicians that nothing will change unless it is proved that FOBTs cause problem gambling. FOBTs have been around since 2001.Why, after 14 controversial years, don’t we know more about how they are used? Who controls gambling research? And why does it so often defend the status quo?

Download the supplement here.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling has written a column on the PoliticsHome blog noting that, not only has a political decision on FOBTs been delayed pending research by the Responsible Gambling Trust, but that this research funding  has been channeled into industry-friendly academics. They write:

It has recently emerged that the Responsible Gambling Trust’s research will not look at the impact of the £100 maximum stake on FOBTs, nor will it look at whether having such a high maximum stake on such an addictive product is more conducive to harm. Instead of determining whether players have more of a propensity to stake up on FOBTs – and therefore adding to the evidence base to reduce the maximum stake – the Responsible Gambling Trust has instead commissioned their stable of industry-friendly academics to determine “what measures might limit harmful play without impacting on those who do not exhibit harmful behaviours”.

Read the full column here.

Written by samkelly2014

September 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Posted in News

Conflicted Medicine: Public Health Campaigns

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Radio 4’s Conflicted Medicine: Public Health Campaigns covers many of the issues raised in our recent Dangerous Consumption workshop, and in the Fair Game report. Listen live on Radio 4 at 15:30 today, or on the iPlayer.


Written by samkelly2014

August 27, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Posted in News

Gambling Insider – Is the gambling industry stifling key research?

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Gambling Insider - May/June 2014

Using Fair Game as a starting point, Gambling Insider – the self-styled ‘essential business-to-business publication for the igaming industry’ – has published a thoughtful overview of the tangled web of relations between the gambling industry, the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) and those working in gambling research. Fair Game’s conclusions bookend the piece, which also contains comment from the Gambling Commission, Marc Etches of the RGT and Matt Zarb-Cousin of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. Find the article online, or click the image below for a full-size representation of the magazine.


Gambling Insider - Is the gambling industry stifling key research?

Click for FULL SIZE. Gambling Insider – Is the gambling industry stifling key research?, by Emma Rumney

Written by samkelly2014

August 24, 2014 at 11:11 am

Posted in News

Masculinity and betting shops – Rebecca Cassidy on Radio 4’s ‘Thinking Allowed’

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Thinking Allowed

Henrietta Moore, Sarah Franklin and Rebecca Cassidy with Laurie Taylor at the BBC studios

Masculinity and betting shops

Rebecca Cassidy recently joined Laurie Taylor on BBC Radio 4’s long-standing social science discussion programme ‘Thinking Allowed’ to discuss the male space of the ‘bookies’. Betting on horses and dogs has long been seen as a male pastime and the betting shop as a ‘man’s world’. Rebecca asks why this should be, interviewing both workers and customers in London betting shops. Find the podcast of the programme here.

Rebecca has guested on the show a couple of times before. In 2009 she described how the betting shops fit into London’s informal economy. Find the podcast of 2009’s programme here.

Way back in 2002 she talked about her fieldwork in the racing industry in Newmarket, the basis of her first book, Sport of Kings.

Written by samkelly2014

August 17, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Posted in News