Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Posts Tagged ‘#RGTopenaccess

The ghost in the machine

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The much awaited RGT machines research was published on 1 December 2014, and launched at a one day event in London on the 10 December.

Why does this research matter?

Firstly, because it was a chance to see how the collaboration between bookmakers and researchers would work in practice.

Secondly, because politicians of all stripes have repeatedly invoked it when asked to take action against Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in High Street betting shops.

red herring

Do FOBTs cause problem gambling?

At a Westminster event I’ve written about previously I told Clive Efford that the research would not answer the impossible question, ‘Do FOBTs cause problem gambling?’, partly because (as Heather Wardle has been careful to say throughout) the research was far more limited in scope, and partly because the question, as posed, is a giant, unanswerable, red herring.

The RGT research program has been one of the central planks of the strategic inertia which has enabled politicians to ask civil society to ‘wait and see’. As such, it fulfils one of the most important functions of all gambling research that is supported and influenced by the industry. Something is seen to be done, even though it has no hope of producing the sort of evidence that politicians claim to need in order to make policy decisions.

Senior researchers including Jim Orford and Linda Hancock have already begun to carefully examine the content of the research. Before I do so I would like to write more generally about the launch itself, a performance rich with symbolic significance.

What happens when the collaborative or partnership model favoured by industry supported gambling research charities all over the world is given its fullest expression?

The launch aped the conventions of an academic conference, techniques which were deployed most effectively by the commercial interests that were (theoretically) under scrutiny. So, for example, Ladbrokes CEO Richard Glynn impersonated a cross headmaster, repeating the word, ‘complex’, peering out at the audience over his glasses and disciplining Professor Jim Orford for asking reasonable questions by referring to him as a ‘provocateur’.

Earlier in proceedings we heard from Dave Excel, CTO of Featurespace. Excel has been poorly served by the RGT who allowed him to veer into territory which he is completely unqualified to traverse. After all, he was crunching the numbers of some of his best customers, and presenting his findings to them. ‘How did you manage this conflict of interest?’ I asked him. He looked panicked and said, ‘What we’ve presented is what the data says… It’s not us speaking, it’s what the data has told us’.

Featurespace launched their report by saying: ‘World-leading research has shown that the £2 stake limit on #FOBTs is ineffective in reducing gambling harm.’ a tweet clearly intended to engage directly with the campaigns to limit stakes on FOBTs to £2.

A £2 stake is not the focus of the Featurespace report, nor does the data enable this claim to be tested, let alone proven. I’ve asked Featurespace to reconsider their position, but the soundbite has already gained traction and will continue to be influential, because it is favourable to the industry’s position.

Featurespace also provided a display of their products outside the main entrance to the ‘Lecture Hall’. Their glossy leaflets were packed with endorsements: ‘Featurespace gives you much more compelling information [than other solutions] at a much lower price point’ enthused William Hill.

When I stopped to look and see what on earth might be on the table that was so assiduously attended by three lively and articulate young people (Gamcare, perhaps, or the Gambling Commission?) and was asked whether I would like to hear how Featurespace can help my business detect fraud, I felt myself sliding even further down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

Perhaps the regulator could bring some sanity to proceedings? Here was a fantastic opportunity for the Gambling Commission to hold the industry accountable for a product that is causing considerable public concern.

We already know that Matthew Hill, Director of Regulatory Risk and Analysis at the Gambling Commission interprets the aim to permit gambling as, ‘not really a million miles away from a growth duty anyway…We are quite used to taking an interpretation that builds the desirability of growth into our action.’ At the RGT event we also heard (not for the first time) how closely he adheres to the industry mantra (repeated by Richard Glynn) that ‘we should be looking at the people not the product’.

The result of the partnership between the RGT and the industry was a triumph of mutual satisfaction over critical attention. The conflicted, flawed and incomplete was wrapped in pseudo academic trappings and pedalled, virtually unchallenged, to a compromised audience dominated by industry and industry dependent organisations.

Join me in asking the RGT to make the databases public so that we can interrogate them for ourselves by tweeting #RGTopenaccess.

Rebecca Cassidy


Written by samkelly2014

January 16, 2015 at 9:59 am