The funding of gambling research: Some personal observations

In the academic world, there are arguably only two units of currency – refereed publications and research grant income. In this article, I briefly outline some of my own general observations about the latter – particularly in relation to the funding of gambling research.

I am probably one of those individuals who has – for the majority of my academic career – operated on intellectual passion rather than research funding. At my previous university institutions, my perception was that there was a passive tolerance of my research rather than any active support. I survived for the first 15 years without major grant income. Based on my early experiences, my initial thoughts about the whole issue of research funding was that the informal ‘network model’ carried more weight than anything more formal, and that it was really a case of ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. However, when the money for my gambling research started to flow in to my institution, there was a noticeable change in thinking about the value of my research.

However, another by-product of the significant increase in funding for gambling research that occurred in the UK is my perception that the relatively small gambling research community went from being strategically collaborative to being far more competitive with each other. Obviously, competitive tendering increases the chances of higher quality research bids but the process does not necessarily enhance collegiality and partnerships within the gambling studies field.

One of the most fundamental problems that academic researchers face in the UK is that there is a conflict between what their peers and university hierarchy view as beneficial for academic advancement, and what stakeholders outside of the university see as desirable and/or worthy. To progress academically, great emphasis is placed on the publication outlet and the source of funding. Was the work published in a high quality journal? Has the journal got a high impact factor? How often has the work been cited? Who funded the research? In short, most academics are more concerned about their own career progression than whether their research has any applied use and/or impact in the real world. One ageing professor who I used to work with was promoted to the very top of the academic career ladder but whose research papers had only a handful of times in the whole of his academic lifetime! In the real world, published academic papers have much less importance to the gambling industry, whereas research that directly impacts on policy than theory is typically preferred by governments. For such a situation to change, there is an urgent need to change the academic promotion criteria if academics are to fall in line with what the outside world (including stakeholders in the gambling field) wants. This is at least beginning to happen as individuals now have to demonstrate to their university – and funders and stakeholders more generally – how our research is making an impact in the world outside of academia.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome is the increasing conflict of interest – particularly by those who carry out research that is directly funded by the gambling industry. Almost all of the ‘big names’ in the gambling studies field have (at some point) carried out research funded by the gambling industry and this often calls into question their academic ‘independence’. This appears to be an increasing economic reality particularly in countries like the UK that live by the governmental philosophy of ‘polluter pays’. One researcher that I have worked with (now retired from day-to-day university life) refuses to carry out research if it is sponsored or funded by the gambling industry (even indirectly via our independent funding body because the money is accrued from voluntary donations by the gambling industry). Furthermore, he will not attend conferences that have gaming industry sponsorship and declines invitations to speak if they are held on gaming premises. Although laudable and highly principled, young researchers who now want to pursue a research career in the gambling studies field will almost certainly find that taking such principled actions will become a barrier to career enhancement.

Another major problem that arises from being funded (directly or indirectly) by the gambling industry is that the industry tends to have a large say in what should be researched in the first place. In my view, far too much research is done on individual risk factors such as research into biological and/or genetic predispositions, personality factors, and cognitive determinants. While this is clearly important research, it sends out the message that problem gambling is solely located within the individual rather than being the result of an interaction between the vulnerable individual, the gambling products, and the gambling environment.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham

Further reading

Adams P. J., Raeburn J., De Silva K. A question of balance: prioritizing public health responses to harmfrom gambling. Addiction 2009; 104: 688–91.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Minimising harm from gambling: What is the gambling industry’s role? Addiction, 104, 696-697.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Gambling research and the search for a sustainable funding infrastructure. Gambling Research, 21(1), 28-32.

Morrison, P. (2009). A new national framework for Australian gambling research: A discussion paper on the potential challenges and processes involved. Gambling Research, 21(1), 8-24.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on December 7, 2011, in Gambling, Psychology, Research in Higher Education and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. My experience of working with the industry, has been that they are keen to allow researchers academic independence to ensure that the results are perceived as legitimate. By contrast, the most restrictions I have ever had placed on what I researched, and reported, came from government funded bodies. It’s not who funds research that is the issue, it’s about how you do it that really matters.

  2. Hi Mark, I enjoy reading your posts and thank you for sharing them with the world. I was severely addicted to VLTs and slot machines for over a decade and nothing I did for years to end my horrific addiction worked. Yes, I was able to MAKE MYSELF STAY AWAY for a day, a week or even months like many other addicts I met at GA or the treatment programs I attended but nothing I was doing ENDED MY CONSTANT AND OVERPOWERING URGES to go play.

    It wasn’t until I researched these machines over a 9 year period that I discovered ‘it was not me who was sick but rather it was the machines that were making me sick’. Finding out the truth about EGMs is the only thing that end my addiction for good (3 years ago).

    Unfortunately, I had lost over $400,000.00 and nearly my life and marriage and had severely berated and hated myself for years before I discovered that the reason I was addicted was not because I was ‘sick or weak’, ‘irresponsible’, or ‘an idiot or a loser’ or because I was ‘predisposed to an addictive behavior’! I had become addicted to EGMs simply because I was playing them exactly the way they were intended to be played!

    How I wish I would have known before and since my government brought these highly addictive, deceptive and destructive machines in my province that ‘losing control of my time and money, chasing my losses and losing touch with reality’ is a NATURAL and COMMON behavior for regular players of EGMs. How I wish someone would have told me the truth about these machines while I was experiencing years of extreme depression, anxiety, migraines, hair loss, sore backs, suicidal thoughts and many other physical ailments..

    I survived the EGM addiction but unfortunately many victims of these machines have gone and still are going to their grave believing they are the ones who are ‘sick’ ‘weak’ or ‘idiots’ and that their addiction is all their fault. I cry each time I think of these victims because I was in the same deep and dark tunnel with no way out and very nearly joined them! I wrote about my personal story as an addict and my discoveries in a book titled ‘DISMISSED’ as my way to help others become aware as to why these machines are UNCONSCIONABLE fundraisers. Nothing or no one, not even BILLIONS of dollars, can ever justify destroying the lives of other people to enhance our own!

    Gisele Jubinville
    Author of DISMISSED
    Alberta, Canada

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