Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Posts Tagged ‘Regulation

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

Westminster eForum: Next steps for gambling policy: regulation, taxation and new opportunities

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On 20th May 2014 the Westminster eForum hosted a Keynote Seminar titled: Next steps for gambling policy: regulation, taxation and new opportunities. It was attended by industry and policy makers, consultants and lawyers. These events are extraordinary opportunities to see at first hand how the field of gambling policy is constructed.

Philip Davies MP had some interesting advice for the industry in the run up to the general election. First, he said, they need to ‘concentrate more on the messenger rather than the message.’ Politicians are not sympathetic to representatives of big bookmakers, he explained, but they might be interested in the plight of single shop owners. Secondly, he said, ‘they’ve got to start arguing on the politicians’ terms, not based on evidence.’

He continued, ‘This idea that decisions in politics are taken on evidence is for the birds, quite frankly, and politicians will always say it’s going to be evidence based, of course they are, they are not going to say we’ve got no interest in the evidence whatsoever, but just because they say that decisions are going to be evidence based doesn’t mean to say that they are going to be evidence based, and they’re not. I mean do you really think Harriet Harman is going to sit and listen to the evidence and sit down after a meeting and say, do you know what, I think I was wrong about that. Of course she’s not going to say that, she just wants to hear the evidence that she thinks will reinforce what she already believes, so it’s no good going along armed with loads of evidence, you’ve actually got to go along and focus your message based on where the politician is coming from, not where you think the politician should be coming from.’3420742147_d2798380db_b

This statement attributes a particular decision making technique to Harriet Harman, who was not there to respond. What about Davies? He did not exempt himself from his observation about decision making. Should his constituents applaud his honesty and their luck in discovering a conviction politician? Or worry that they are represented by someone who chooses to rely on his own judgement, irrespective of the insights of others who might conceivably be better informed?

His position echoes those of policy makers quoted in Fair Game. They told us that politicians use evidence about gambling selectively: to support their existing positions, to criticize their opponents and, most prosaically, to buy time in order to delay policy decisions.

Speaking of which, Clive Efford MP, Shadow Minister for Sport, has put a great deal of weight on the machines research to be published by the Responsible Gambling Trust in November. He told the audience, ‘If the research that is currently being done for the Responsible Gambling Trust shows that there is a link between the stakes and prizes on FOBTs and problem gambling, then I will call for them to be removed.’ What kind of link does he have in mind? In previous discussions of FOBTs, evidence of a ‘causal link’ between machines and problem gambling has been called for before any changes are made to policy. Will the machine research provide him with this evidence? Or has he decided to abandon this standard of proof in favour of lower level associations between particular products and behaviours?


The core sponsors of the Westminster eForum are: Arqiva, the British Broadcasting Corporation, BT, ISBA – the Voice of British Advertisers, KPMG and O2.

Rebecca Cassidy’s attendance at the Westminster eForum (£210 plus VAT) was paid for by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n. 263443

Agenda – Next steps for gambling policy: regulation, taxation and new opportunities [PDF]

Written by samkelly2014

July 31, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Should we train ourselves in risk intelligence by learning from gamblers?

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In a Wall Street Journal article, Dylan Evans argues that risk intelligence is higher in certain types of personalities than in others. Namely, there are people more able to predict – in numerical terms – events and trends in realms such as international relations, economics, public health and technology. Majority of us, the article claims, often either overestimate or underestimate: our own abilities as well as outside circumstances.

However, all is not lost.

Risk intelligence is not a fixed value we are born with. We are told we can learn from gamblers: who ‘keep accurate and detailed records of their earnings and losses and regularly review strategies in order to learn from their mistakes’.

I am intrigued by the very concept of risk intelligence.

It is interesting how, over time and with varying social trends, different types of intelligence have been introduced as necessary for personal and social success. It was first emotional intelligence, an upgrade from the basic IQ, followed by a strong focus on social intelligence and the ability to connect. Risk intelligence is the next big thing – a precondition to survive and thrive in the age of uncertainty. Here, just like in the overall strategy of gambling regulation and liberalisation, risk has become an individual responsibility: risk intelligence then must be our only tool.

Can we really learn from gamblers?

Reference to the way gamblers learn from their winnings and losses mostly depict poker-players’ behaviour. Majority of them would, however, strongly argue they are NOT gamblers. I am told by my poker-playing informants that the skill of risk assessment can indeed be learned, but ‘it has nothing to do with chance or uncertainty’. On the other hand, psychologists who work with problem gamblers in my field tell me that poor risk assessment is one of the biggest indicators of uncontrollable behaviour. One of them said: ‘if someone believes they can win the roulette by betting on their lucky number, they have no idea about what risk they are taking – they are gamblers.’

Written by Andrea Pisac

May 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm

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Are the Borders Falling Down?

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In a recent article in FT, Guy Dinmore has argued that ‘the Italians gamble through austerity’. The article states that Italians spent an estimated €80bn on legal gaming last year – more than €1,300 each. Since 2006, the Italian government has both liberalised and regulated the sector. The outcome of such strategy is more licences being issued for new segments such as slot machines, bingo, online poker and live poker rooms. In 2011, Italian gambling industry had a gross earning of €18.5bn, which is more than 50 per cent in five years.

For the past eight months, I have been living in Nova Gorica, a ‘casino town’ on the border between Italy and Slovenia. The above mentioned numbers are a constant cause for concern for the gaming industry people on the Slovenian side. Since the golden age of casinoland (mid 1990’s), Italian players have made up to 95 per cent of the overall visitors. The specific economic and symbolic exchanges in this area have actually been sustained by the border itself. First as a dividing line between socialism and capitalism, later as an outcome of different gaming laws in the two neighbouring countries.

Italy has very few land based casinos so the majority of Italians prefer to travel across to Slovenia. Some travel even from as far as Rome. However, with this massive change in Italian gaming licences, Slovenian casinos have suffered a great deal. I am told by people in Nova Gorica that casinos will have to think hard to beat the new competition in the form of a more liberalised Italian gambling outputs. What else can they offer their Italian gusts to win them over once again? With all the travel expenses to Slovenia and from recently easy access to gambling at home, what would keep an Italian player loyal to their old routine of border-crossing?

A very similar phenomenon is happening in the USA – the decision of the State of Massachusetts to allow gambling will seriously affect the neighbouring casinos built on the Native American land. Those were also sustained by the border dynamics between inside and outside of the American national territory.

It will indeed be interesting to watch how the life of these borderlands will change due to new gaming laws. And will they remain borderlands?

Written by Andrea Pisac

May 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm

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Has Wall Street become a hyper-speed casino?

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On 6 May 2010 the Dow Jones incurred a fall of 1000 points in 15 minutes to rally back in another 15. This event, now referred as the ‘flash crash’, has brought High Frequency Trading (HFT), the use of computer technology to trade at increasingly fast speed in order to take advantage of tiny opportunities in the market, under harsh scrutiny and criticism.

The CFTC, the US regulator in charge of the commodities market, has recently settled a case court against Optiver, a high frequency trading company with a $14 millions deal. Optiver’s Chicago office was accused of having reaped a $1 million profit by engaging in a practice called “banging the close”, in which the firm attempted to move U.S. oil prices by executing a large volume of deals during the final moments of trading. The Optiver case is revealing of the new CFTC’s will to crackdown on market abuse and HFT.

Others in the industry call High Frequency Traders ‘parasites’ which have turned Wall Street into a ‘hyper-speed casino’ by taking all the humanity out of what used to be a very human business. The anxiety towards high-frequency trading has even recently lead to plans to create new exchange-type platforms which will exclude high-frequency traders.

Is High Frequency Trading the new evil face of Wall Street?

David Levine at the Huff Post has written the most compelling and insightful article I have read so far on the topic. His account demonstrates that the question of High Frequency Trading hides much bigger ones and cannot be answered in a straightforward manner.

The criticism that High Frequency Trading takes the social out of trading reminds of what Rebecca Cassidy, an anthropologist, says about the rise of technology in gambling.  She argues in her article Horse versus Machine: Battle in the Betting Shop, forthcoming in JRAI, that the arrival of machine gambling in the betting shop doesn’t lead, as it is frequently claimed, to asocial forms of gambling. She explains, on the contrary, how betting shop customers innovate through new gambling media.

In some instances, betting shop regulars ‘gang up’ against a specific machine. Every member of the group invests an amount of money, the machine is played in turn, and winnings are shared according to one’s investment.

By interviewing and depicting one of those individuals who are behind the computers, David Levine makes a similar point: High Frequency Trading is not just machines without faces.

The argument that technology kills the social nature of trading is not new. In her book Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London, Caitlin Zaloom, another anthropologist, depicts how, at the turn of the millennium, financial markets left behind the chaotic gesture of trading floors for numbers on screen and how traders’ role did not disappear as a result but was redefined in interaction with these new technologies.

What is striking in David Levine’s article is how Gorton, the speed trader, doesn’t see himself so much as a trader anymore but rather as an engineer. In his own words, here is how he describes the company he runs: ‘We’re really an engineering company. We have a lot more in common with Google than we do with one of the big bank’. This is exactly how spread betting companies in the UK have been described to me: as IT companies first, trading coming second. IG Index epitomizes this rhetoric by employing 350 staff in IT, a third of its workforce worldwide.

Technology for sure plays a central role in trading which is constantly growing and that we can’t ignore. Calls for more regulation on HFT do not take into account the practical difficulties to regulate it, ignoring to address the politics at work behind technology. Questions which ask whether it is evil are unhelpful and fail to articulate the resourceful and rich manner individuals redefine what they do in interaction with technology.

Written by Claire Loussouarn

April 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm