Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Posts Tagged ‘gambling

Canadian experiments

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I’m grateful to Luke Clark for his response to my article in International Gambling Studies.  Luke recently left Cambridge to set up the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC (University of British Columbia). The centre is funded by the Province of BC government and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC). For non-Canadian readers, BCLC conducts and manages gambling across the province.

Luke is at the coal face of making a particular funding structure work, trying to put money raised from gambling to good use. His insights are invaluable.

The centre is an example of the blurred boundaries between the gambling industry and government identified as a source of ‘influence and bias’ by Blaszczynski & Gainsbury (2014). According to Griffiths and Auer, ‘It is our experience [in relation to writing consultancy reports rather than research reportds (sic)] that it is work commissioned by government agencies that receives far more scrutiny and criticism than that funded by the gambling industry.’ (2015) Wohl and Wood concur, saying that, ‘From our collective 30 + years of experience, working with all types of funding agencies, the least interference with our research endeavours has come from the gambling industry.’ This point of view was also well represented in Fair Game.

But the interference of government officials in publishing and agenda setting is not an argument for accepting money from industry. On the contrary, it supports the argument that we should be doing more to ensure that these activities are undertaken independently of all beneficiaries of gambling including the industry.

Man-with-electrodes-on-hi-007Luke is wrestling with the thorny question, “What does…‘academic independence’ mean in practice?” The approach that he is developing at UBC is threefold: the research programme is determined by the centre and ‘funding is not tied to any specific projects’. ‘Second, there are no restrictions on publishing, or requirements to submit advanced copies of outputs to any bodies. Third, all outputs from the centre clearly disclose the financial support.’ Able to set the agenda for research, Luke and his colleagues have created a ‘casino lab’, an initiative which failed in the UK. Luke is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that their work will produce findings that will translate into evidence based policy but, ‘on this point, only time will tell’.

Two important experiments are taking place here: the first in machine gambling, the second in research economies. We await the results of both with great interest.

Rebecca Cassidy


Written by samkelly2014

March 24, 2015 at 8:25 am

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

Fair Game: producing gambling research

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The Goldsmiths Report

The Goldsmiths Report uses quotes from 109 stakeholders (including researchers, industry members and policy users) to explore the relationship between gambling research and the politics of gambling liberalisation. The Gamsoc team is organising an afternoon conference on 3 April to present their findings and discuss the issues raised in the report and their implications for the field of gambling studies and beyond.

Two prominent researchers will speak about themes in their work which directly echo the issues tackled in the report. Peter Adams from the University of Auckland will speak about gambling industry funding, ethics and conflicts of interest. Mark Petticrew from the London School of Tropical Medicine will speak about Hans Selye, ‘the father of stress’, and his relationship with ‘Big Tobacco.’

When: 3 April 2014, 12.00-4.00

Where: The Orangery, Surrey House, 80 Lewisham way, SE14 6PB (entrance from Shardeloes Road). Click here to view where the Orangery is on a map and here for information on how to get to Goldsmiths, University of London.

Places are limited, so please RSVP to as soon as possible to reserve your seat, and by March 21st at the latest.

22 days to launch

Written by samkelly2014

March 12, 2014 at 11:44 am

Discussing gambling at the Labour Conference

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As part of the Labour conference on Monday 23 September, Chinese for Labour organised a fringe event on gambling which has been a growing issue for the Chinese community over the last few years, especially with the opening of new betting shops in London’s Chinatown. Along with David Lammy, Tottenham MP, Rowenna Davies, PPC Southampton Itchen and Professor Jim Orford I was invited to speak about my understanding of the issue since I carried out a PhD about Chinese casino players in London. Here is the speech that I delivered on the day:

‘Today I’d like to argue that we’re not only seeing a proliferation of betting shops in Chinatown but a Macau-isation of London’s Chinatown and that this development is facilitated by a greater freedom for gambling venues to market their products since 2007.

At the same time as more betting shops have appeared in Chinatown, in Leicester Square just around the corner, the number of casinos has increased, with two new casinos opening in the last 6 years. However, what is important to stress is not just how many new casinos or betting shops have opened but how the experience of gambling in these venues has evolved under the new regulatory regime.

With deregulation, marketing campaigns of free Chinese buffet and Chinese New Year celebrations targeting Chinese customers have intensified and multiplied. The most obvious example is the way casinos can now introduce new types of games and how they have revived, for example, a Chinese game of the name of Pai Gow, which is offered at the Empire and the Hippodrome, to attract the Chinese clientele to their premises.

I’ve been doing research on gambling and risk-taking for 7 years. I did extensive research with Chinese casino gamblers in London’s Chinatown in 2007 and 2008. I am a social anthropologist which means that I do not do surveys, laboratory experiments or just interviews. My method of inquiry is immersion, living the daily lives of the communities I work within, in this case the Chinese community of London, do what they do, and see what affects their lives on a day-to-day basis from their perspectives. I speak Mandarin, I lived in China and researched the Chinese community of Vietnam before, so I had an appropriate set of tools to approach Chinese gamblers in London. For over a year, I was part of the casino scene in and around Chinatown, making friends and spending time with many Chinese gamblers. All of this gives me a unique perspective on how the changing gambling environment is impacting the Chinese community in London.

My research shows that we cannot blame so called Chinese culture for problem gambling in the Chinese community and that we also need to look at the gambling environments around us.

As an anthropologist I certainly won’t deny that some people from China or with Chinese roots love gambling. It is an important part of their culture and of how they relate with each other. However, I refuse to stigmatise the Chinese community as having gambling in their blood. I think such a stereotype is problematic as it assumes the problem lies with a culture and a migrant community; it distracts from a discussion about the role and responsibility of regulation, technology and the commercialisation of gambling.

Casinos near Chinatown purposely romanticise how their venues facilitate a community atmosphere for Chinese customers, the idea being that casinos are just another way to bring the community together. Although it is true that some Chinese gamblers do frequent casinos and betting shops to meet and socialise, it is dangerous and mistaken to liken commercial gambling venues to community centres.

First, many Chinese gamblers frequent them to avoid interacting with others and to enjoy solitude and anonymity. And certainly in the casino there is no social pressure to interact, on the contrary.

But most of all, gambling venues are commercial enterprises whose objective is to make profit. The commercial environment of the casino where odds are in favour of the house cannot be compared to a game of mahjong where the chances are equally favourable to all participants. Playing mahjong with members of a family, village or community centre takes place within prescribed social environments where money must be won and lost according to social etiquette.

As a Chinese girl described to me, when playing mahjong it is important to respect the people you’re playing with. When she played with a host she would be mindful not to win too much and would let her win. Neither could she systematically win against her dad. Losing against him would also allow her to give him some money without offending his pride. For her, it was important to abide to such social etiquette when playing mahjong. There is no such social etiquette in the casino which is purely about extracting profit, not about building and maintaining relationships.

Some of the Chinese gamblers I met, especially those who had recently come to the UK, often learnt the hard way that they could only lose in the long run by gambling in the casino or at a FOBT. Yuan Ting, a young Fujianese man in his early 30s who had moved to the UK in the hope of a better life had lost all of his savings and more when I met him in 2008. He felt terribly ashamed for not being able to send money back home as he had promised and for having to ask his family to pay off his debts. He had never seen a betting shop or a casino before coming to London, and therefore it was the first time he experienced what it was like to gamble in a commercial environment.

To conclude, saying that Chinese people have gambling in their blood is problematic in two ways. It shifts the blames to the Chinese community and away from the government and the industry. It also avoids a discussion of how regulatory, technological and commercial environment of gambling impacts the Chinese community. I’m very glad that Chinese for Labour is organising this meeting today as I think that helping the Chinese community and tackling problem gambling starts with addressing such questions in the public sphere and pushing these questions forward on the political agenda.’ 

Written by Claire Loussouarn

October 16, 2013 at 1:04 pm

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Through Macedonian Casinoland

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When a door closes, a window opens.

One of the main problems with researching gambling is access to the field. Casino environment, for example, is usually off the limits for an inquisitive photographer or a film-maker. Gambling industry operators are not keen on talking to researchers. Not that we are a threat to them, several colleagues told me while sharing a similar experience, but merely a nuisance. Gambling industry is fast-growing, fast-changing and competitive. Hanging out with researchers is not the best use of these people’s time, I am told. Knocking on these closed doors seems like a big limitation, but it can also become a source of creativity.  So it’s true: when a door closes, a window opens.

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I recently came back from a field trip on the border between Macedonia and Greece. I visited a small town of Gevgelija which has become a favourite gambling and leisure destination for the Greeks from Thessaloniki. A fellow researcher, originally from Macedonia, joined me on the trip. We thought that approaching the local gambling managers in Macedonian would open these particular doors. We were very wrong. So wrong we couldn’t even get them to have an informal coffee with us; and so wrong that they wouldn’t even let her into the casino with her Macedonian passport. Our window out of there was to speak to the local people and find out how the town has changed in the last decade.

In one of the must-go-to restaurants, we sharpened our pencils and eagerly waited for the opportunity to write down the local tales. The waiter who served us spoke only to my husband: what can I get you, you should try our local brandy, so you’re from Croatia, I have many friends in Croatia. We, the she-anthropologists, interrupted him: excuse me, how do you feel about the casino industry dominating your town, do you get many Greek gamblers in your restaurant, do many young people from Gevgelija work in a casino… The waiter ignored us. Ours was not only the problem of accessing the gambling industry, but accessing the male world in general.

We stayed in this restaurant until closing time. My husband agreed to play a role: he was our spokesperson, because as women, we were either invisible or too dangerous to speak to. He visited the toilet often only to pass by the bar and chit chat with the waiter, who, as it turned out, was the owner’s son. My dear husband agreed to get drunk on the Macedonian home-made brandy, play a tough macho, neglect even us, only to open up a window of opportunity. By the end of the evening, the owner came to our table, obviously intrigued by this strange party of three. It was then that my husband told him we were important academics from European universities, writing a book about Gevgelija: you should speak to them, not me, he said. This was that moment of serendipity, never planned and always crucial for where the fieldwork takes us: and it always takes us somewhere.

Written by Andrea Pisac

September 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Gambling – a productive craft?

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During my ramblings around small Dalmatian towns this summer, I discovered a curious scene. In Jelsa, a quiet place on the Croatian island of Hvar, I visited the church of St. John. A small, stone building sheltered among the cobbled streets of the town, the size of this church makes it look more like a doll house than an imposing place of worship. Inside, there was yet another surprise.

productive crafts in St. John's church on the island of Hvar

productive crafts in St. John’s church on the island of Hvar

The crucifix was adorned with objects symbolising various crafts traditionally used in an agricultural village: a dress for clothes-makers, a hammer, pliers, nails and a ladder for all sorts of building work, a hand for working on a land, a milk jug, a fishing rod and a bundle of wheat for producing food, wine (for good time but also for barter), a blooded sword for fighting the enemy, a cockerel (that can symbolise many things, such as self-awareness or fertility), and lastly – dice. The Catholic church has quite a strong opinion against gambling. So how did the dice end up in this tiny stone place of worship? But seeing them hanging off the crucifix was curious in other ways. Did they really symbolise gambling? If so, how was gambling juxtaposed to other productive types of work, those necessary for people’s daily sustenance? Was gambling imagined only as pleasure and fun or could it have multiple social functions, just like wine was used to get merry but also to barter for other necessities? Was someone trying to say that gambling practices – in which people manage chance and risk in various ways – can also be productive: of various social relations and ideas of how resources can be and are distributed in a community. These are the the ideas that our ‘Gambling in Europe’ project explores….

Written by Andrea Pisac

August 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm

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