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Levy settle: A statutory gambling levy is needed to help treat gambling addicts

At the most recent Labour Party conference, the Party’s deputy leader Tom Watson said that if they formed the next Government they would introduce legislation to force gambling operators to pay a levy to fund research and NHS treatment to help problem gamblers deal with their addiction. This is something which I wholeheartedly support and is also something that I have been calling for myself for over a decade

The most recent statistics on gambling participation by the Gambling Commission in August 2017 reported that 63% of the British population had gambled in the last year and that the prevalence rate of problem gambling among those 16 years and over was 0.6%-0.7%. While this is relatively low, this still equates to approximately 360,000 adult problem gamblers and is of serious concern.

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At present the gambling industry voluntarily donates money to an independent charitable trust (GambleAware) and most of this money funds gambling treatment (with the remaining monies being used to fund education and research). In the 12 months prior to March 2017, the gambling industry had donated £8 million, an amount still 20% below the £10 million a year I recommended in a report I wrote for the British Medical Association a number of years ago.

A statutory levy of 1% on all gambling profits made by the British gambling industry would raise considerably more money for gambling education, treatment and research than the £8 million voluntarily donated last year and is the main reason why I am in favour of it. Gambling has not been traditionally viewed as a public health matter. However, I believe that gambling addiction is a health issue as much as a social issue because there are many health consequences for those addicted to gambling including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress related disorders. This is in addition to other personal issues such as problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, neglect of family, and bankruptcy.

There are also many recommendations that I would make in addition to a statutory levy. These include:

  • Brief screening for gambling problems among participants in alcohol and drug treatment facilities, mental health centres and outpatient clinics, as well as probation services and prisons should be routine.
  • The need for education and training in the diagnosis and effective treatment of gambling problems must be addressed within GP training. Furthermore, GPs should screen for problem gambling in the same way that they do for other consumptive behaviours such as cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking. At the very least, GPs should know where they can refer their patients with gambling problems to.
  • Research into the efficacy of various approaches to the treatment of gambling addiction in the UK needs to be undertaken and should be funded by GambleAware.
  • Treatment for problem gambling should be provided under the NHS (either as standalone services or alongside drug and alcohol addiction services) and funded either by gambling-derived revenue (i.e., a ‘polluter pays’ model).
  • Given the associations between problem gambling, crime, and other psychological disorders (including other addictions), brief screening should be routine for gambling problems should be carried out in alcohol and drug treatment facilities, mental health centres and outpatient clinics, as well as probation services and prisons.
  • Education and prevention programmes should be targeted at adolescents along with other potentially addictive and harmful behaviours (e.g., smoking, drinking, and drug taking) within the school curriculum.

As I have tried to demonstrate, problem gambling is very much a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all in the medical profession. General practitioners routinely ask patients about smoking and drinking, but gambling is something that is not generally discussed. Problem gambling may be perceived as a grey area in the field of health. If the main aim of practitioners is to ensure the health of their patients, then an awareness of gambling and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge in the training of those working in the health field.

Gambling is not an issue that will go away. Opportunities to gamble and access to gambling have increased due to the fact that anyone with Wi-Fi access and a smartphone or tablet can gamble from wherever they are. While problem gambling can never be totally eliminated, the Government must have robust gambling policies in place so that potential harm is minimized for the millions of people that gamble. For the small minority of individuals who develop gambling problems, there must be treatment resources in place that are affordable and easily accessible.

(N.B. This is a longer version of an article that was originally published in The Conversation)

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Problem gambling. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 16, 582-584.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The lost gamblers: Problem gambling. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 3(1), 13-15.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Gambling regulation from a psychologist’s perspective: Thoughts and recommendations. In Gebhardt, I. (Ed.), Glücksspiel – Ökonomie, Recht, Sucht (Gambling – Economy, Law, Addiction) (Second Edition) (pp. 938-944). Berlin: De Gruyter.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gambling in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Back tracking: A brief look at using big data in gambling research

I’ve been working in the area of gambling for nearly 30 years and over the past 15 years I have carrying out research into both online gambling and responsible gambling. As I have outlined in previous blogs, one of the new methods I have been using in my published papers is online behavioural tracking. The chance to carry out innovative research in both areas using a new methodology was highly appealing – especially as I have used so many other methods in my gambling research (including online and offline surveys, experiments in laboratories and ecologically valid settings, offline focus groups, online and offline case study interviews, participant and non-participation observation, secondary analysis of survey data, and analysis of various forms of online data such as those found in online forums and online diary blogs).

Over the last decade there has been a big push by gambling regulators for gambling operators to be more socially responsible towards its clientele and this has led to the use of many different responsible gambling (RG) tools and initiatives such as voluntary self-exclusion schemes (where gamblers can ban themselves from gambling), limit setting (where gamblers can choose how much time and/or money they want to lose while gambling), personalized feedback (where gamblers can get personal feedback and advice based on their actual gambling behaviour) and pop-up messages (where gamblers receive a pop-up message during play that informs them how long they have been playing or how much money that have spent during the session).

However, very little is known about whether these RG tools and initiatives actually work, and most of the research that has been published relies on laboratory methods and self-reports – both of which have problems as reliable methods when it comes to evaluating whether RG tools work. Laboratory experiments typically contain very few participants and are carried out in non-ecologically valid settings, and self-reports are prone to many biases (including social desirability and recall biases). Additionally, the sample sizes are also relatively small (although bigger than experiments).

The datasets to analyse player behaviour are huge and can include hundreds of thousands of online gamblers. Given that my first empirical paper on gambling published in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 1990 was a participant observational analysis of eight slot machine gamblers at one British amusement arcade, it is extraordinary to think that decades later I have access to datasets beyond anything I could have imagined back in the 1980s when I began my research career. The data analysis is carried with my research colleague Michael Auer who has a specific expertise in data mining and we use traditional statistical tests to analyse the data. However, the hardest part is always trying to work out which parameters to use in assessing whether the RG tool worked or not. The kind of data we have includes how much time and money that players are spending on the gambling website, and using that data we can assess to what extent the amount of time and money decreases as a result of using limit setting measures, or receiving personalized feedback or a pop-up message.

One of the biggest problems in doing this type of research in the gambling studies field is getting access to the data in the first place and the associated issue of whether academics should be working with the gambling industry in the first place. The bottom line is that we would never have been able to undertake this kind of innovative research with participant sizes of hundreds of thousands of real gamblers without working in co-operation with the gambling industry. (It should also be noted that the gambling companies in question did not fund the research but provided simply provided access to their databases and customers). In fact, I would go as far as to say the research would have been impossible without gambling industry co-operation. Data access provided by the gambling industry has to be one of the key ways forward if the field is to progress.

Unlike other consumptive and potentially addictive behaviours (smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, etc.), researchers can study real-time gambling (and other potentially addictive behaviours like video gaming and social networking) in a way that just cannot be done in other chemical and behavioural addictions (e.g., sex, exercise, work, etc.) because of online and/or card-based technologies (such as loyalty cards and player cards). There is no equivalent of this is the tobacco or alcohol industry, and is one of the reasons why researchers in the gambling field are beginning to liaise and/or collaborate with gambling operators. As researchers, we should always strive to improve our theories and models and it appears strange to neglect this purely objective information simply because it involves working together with the gambling industry. This is especially important given the recent research by Dr. Julia Braverman and colleagues published in the journal Psychological Assessment using data from gamblers on the bwin website showing that self-recollected information does not match with objective behavioural tracking data.

The great thing about online behavioural tracking data collected from gamblers is that it is totally objective (as it provides a true record of what every gambler does click-by-click), is collected from real world gambling websites (so is ecologically valid), and has large sample sizes (typically tens of thousands of online gamblers). There of course some disadvantages, the main ones being that the sample is unrepresentative of all online gamblers (as the data only comes from gamblers at one website) and nothing is known about the person’s gambling activity at other websites (research has shown that online gamblers typically gamble at a number of different websites and not just one). Despite these limitations, the analysis of behavioural tracking data (so-called ‘big data’) is a reliable and cutting-edge way to assess and evaluate online gambling behaviour and to assess whether RG tools actually work in real world gambling settings with real online gamblers in real time.

To get access to such data you have to cultivate a trusting relationship with the data providers. It took me years to build up trust with the gambling industry because researchers who study problem gambling are often perceived by the gambling industry to be ‘anti-gambling’ but in my case this wasn’t true. I am ‘pro-responsible gambling’ and gamble myself so it would be hypocritical to be anti-gambling. My main aim in my gambling research is to protect players and minimise harm. Problem gambling will never be totally eliminated but it can be minimised. If gambling companies share the same aim and philosophy of not wanting to make money from problem gamblers but to make money from non-problem gamblers, then I would be prepared to help and collaborate.

You also need to be thick-skinned. If you are analysing any behavioural tracking data provided by the gambling industry, then you need to be prepared for others in the field criticizing you for working in collaboration with the industry. Although none of this research is funded by the industry, the fact that you are collaborating is enough for some people to accuse you of not being independent and/or being in the pockets of the gambling industry. Neither of these are true but it won’t stop the criticism. Nor will it stop me from carrying on researching in this area using datasets provided by the gambling industry.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity (revisited): A response to Braverman et al (2013). Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 921-931.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.

Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Auer, M., Schneeberger, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity: A simulation study. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 16, 269-273.

Braverman, J., Tom, M., & Shaffer, H. J. (2014). Accuracy of self-reported versus actual online gambling wins and losses. Psychological Assessment, 26, 865-877.

Griffiths, M.D. (1990). Addiction to fruit machines: A preliminary study among males. Journal of Gambling Studies, 6, 113-126.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2011). Approaches to understanding online versus offline gaming impacts. Casino and Gaming International, 7(3), 45-48.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2015). Research funding in gambling studies: Some further observations. International Gambling Studies, 15, 15-19.

War of the Words: Campaign for Fairer Gambling still gambling with people’s reputations

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFFG) yesterday responded to my article in which I outlined the potentially libellous comments made by CFFG spokesperson Adrian Parkinson. Here’s my brief response to what was said and alleged in yesterday’s CFFG’s article.

“Supposed academic”: In my previous blog I noted that Parkinson had claimed that I was only a “supposed academic” and that I believed this to be false and deliberately malicious. The CFFG now concedes in their article that I am not only an academic but a “decorated” one. However, no apology was given. They then go onto claim:

“Using the term ‘supposed’ does not impact that general point. However, when conducting certain industry funded projects, it is right to question whether these are being conducted on an academic, commercial or egotistical basis. It is supposed that they are conducted on an academic basis”

Firstly, Parkinson clearly used the word “supposed” in an attempt to slur and denigrate my research and reputation. Parkinson could have written the same tweet without the word “supposed” and the meaning and emphasis of what he said would have been different. I found Parkinson’s use of the word both offensive and demeaning. If someone claimed in an article that Parkinson was a “supposed campaign consultant”, anyone reading that would probably assume that the person writing it was trying to make a point that he is not worthy of being a campaign consultant. (For the record, I am well aware that Parkinson is the CFFG’s campaign consultant and would not sink to the level of calling him a “supposed campaign consultant”). The CFFG says the use of the word “supposed” does not impact on their general points made about me. That is irrelevant. The word “supposed” in and of itself was used in a potentially libellous way. It doesn’t take away from my point that the use of the word “supposed” in this context was hurtful, malicious, and without foundation. Secondly – and for the record – all of my work is conducted for academic reasons. Any insinuation otherwise is again untrue and potentially libellous.

“Defender of FOBTs”: In my response to Parkinson’s claim that I am “industry funded defender of FOBTs” I pointed out in my previous article that I’ve only ever written one public article on the topic (a blog I wrote in 2013). The CFFG response to this was to separate out the “funded” and the “defender of FOBTs” in an attempt to justify the claims made. If not being anti-FOBTs in my one blog on this issue counts as being a defender of FOBTs, then so be it. However, my objection was the use of the combined term “industry funded defender of FOBTs” because I am not. There is a world of difference between an academic having independently carried out a few consultancy projects for the gaming industry and being industry funded. Using the CFFG’s criterion why haven’t they called me Gambling Commission-funded or British Academy-funded or ESRC-funded?  The reason is that it doesn’t suit the picture they are trying to paint.

My personal views are not (and never have been) funded by anyone. In my previous article I provided a detailed account showing that my research is not industry-funded and that out of the 1500+ articles and papers I have published not a single one of those had been about FOBTs. I have now published over 500 blogs in addition to those 1500+ other articles and only one of these is on the topic of FOBTs. Not a single one these articles has been funded by the industry. One of the reasons I am not anti-FOBTs is because we now live in a society that anyone with internet access via computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone has access to FOBT-type games at their fingertips. Basically, if you own a smart phone, you are walking around with a potential bookmaker in your pocket. On this basis, singling out FOBTs in licenced bookmakers to be banned has no equity at all.

“Industry funded”: Again, I will make the point that having ever received money from the gaming industry for independent consutancy and being “industry-funded” are two very different things. Being ‘industry funded’ suggests everything someone does is paid for by the industry. Based on the article published yesterday, one of the CFFG’s main concerns about my academic activity appears to be that one of my consultancies was a social responsibility assessment for Paddy Power. As I mentioned in my article about Parkinson’s potentially libellous tweets, I’ve written around 150 consultancy reports on social responsibility and responsible gambling and I can indeed confirm that one of my consultancy clients has been Paddy Power. The report I wrote for them covered a number of areas (most notably, crime and gambling, social responsibility in gambling, and underage gambling). Paddy Power paid my university for my time spent writing this independent report (as all monies are paid to them and not me personally) and for my appearance as an expert witness. As an independent expert witness, I have to follow all judicial protocol. In all expert witness work I follow the protocol outlined by the Civil Justice Council. The most relevant extracts are in Sections 4.1 and 4.3:

“Experts always owe a duty to exercise reasonable skill and care to those instructing them, and to comply with any relevant professional code of ethics. However when they are instructed to give or prepare evidence for the purpose of civil proceedings in England and Wales they have an overriding duty to help the court on matters within their expertise…This duty overrides any obligation to the person instructing or paying them. Experts must not serve the exclusive interest of those who retain them…Experts should provide opinions which are independent, regardless of the pressures of litigation. In this context, a useful test of ‘independence’ is that the expert would express the same opinion if given the same instructions by an opposing party. Experts should not take it upon themselves to promote the point of view of the party instructing them or engage in the role of advocates”.

Again, there is nothing in the independent report I wrote for Paddy Power that I am an “industry funded defender of FOBTs” (as there was little in my report on FOBTs). In the article published yesterday, the CFFG also claimed

“Griffiths produced a flawed critique of a paper by Steve Sharman on the strong link between problem gamblers and the homeless. Westminster Council used the Sharman paper to support the refusal of a Paddy Power license. Griffiths did not contact Sharman prior to publishing his criticism, which is against academic etiquette. He also did not identify that he has a commercial relationship with Paddy Power in his attack on Sharman”.

I’m not sure in what way the CFFG thinks my critique of the study carried out by Sharman and his colleagues was “flawed” (they didn’t say) but for the record (i) the critique I wrote has been published in the Journal of Gambling Studies (JGS), (ii) I did email Sharman (and his colleagues) about my critique, and (iii) I sent Sharman and his colleagues a copy of my published critique (so that they could pen a response to the JGS if they so wished). I am not sure what the CFFG mean when they say I have a “commercial relationship with Paddy Power”. If they mean that Paddy Power paid my university for my time spent writing my independent consultancy report, then that is true. If they mean that Paddy Power (and any of my clients) are paying me personally then that is false (as all consultancy money is paid to my employer – Nottingham Trent University – and not me personally).

“Dirty work for the ABB”: In Parkinson’s original tweets he said I was carrying out “dirty work” for the Association of British Bookmakers. Nothing in the response article by the CFFG actually defended their use of the term “dirty”. The CFFG may have the view that is morally wrong for someone like myself to do consultancy on social responsibility and responsible gambling with any organization connected with the gaming industry. They may simply not like the fact that a “decorated academic” like myself should have any working association with the gaming industry at all. But none of this is “dirty” or “dirty work”. The work I do is legitimate, legal, independent, and in accordance with all consultancy protocols. The assertion that the work I do is “dirty” is simply a slur on my reputation and was used in a context to again demean the work that I do. Again, taking the word “dirty” out of the tweet would have entirely changed the meaning. The CFFG then go on to assert: 

“Griffiths is evaluating a code of conduct which he has helped author in conjunction with the ABB – so he is evaluating his own work, which is again, against academic etiquette. A formal evaluation of the code of conduct is being conducted by Nat Cen. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling anticipate that this evaluation will be more critical of the – code of conduct than the Griffiths ‘self”-evaluation’.”

There are a number of issues here that are simply wrong. While I did input into the ABB code (and was proud to do so), it is in no way ‘my’ code or my “own work”. The ABB introduced some of the things into the new code that I wanted to see in it (most notably time and money setting tools, pop-up reminders, and mandatory breaks – based on our empirical research published in the Journal of Gambling Studies and the Journal of Gambling Issue – see ‘Further Reading below). My consultancy report on the how the new social responsibility tools were used by FOBT players in the first 15 weeks of operation is a commentary on the data and an evaluation in the loosest sense (i.e., the dictionary definition of the making of a judgement about the amount, number, or value of something”). The CFFG also state that “self-evaluation” is “against academic etiquette”. This is simply not true. Many (if not most) evaluations of anything published in the academic literature are self-evaluations of one description or another. For instance, gambling treatment interventions, gambling education programs, and gambling prevention programs are typically evaluated by the researcher or the research team that designed them.

“Doing what the industry tells me to do”: In Parkinson’s tweets, he claimed I simply do what the industry tells me to do. I said this was a ludicrous claim and the CFFG’s ‘evidence’ that I do has absolutely no foundation whatsoever. They say:

“In respect of FOBTs: through the misleading FOBT blog, the code of conduct, his appearance at court with Paddy Power, a willingness to attack an academic paper used by a council to act against Paddy Power, the Campaign Killer blog, and his willingness to attend an invitation only ABB event to promote the code of conduct, Griffiths is supporting the commercial interests of bookmakers. It is understandable that others believe he is sympathetic to the position of the bookmakers on FOBTs. After all, Griffiths knows all about the importance to his career of being able to attract funded research as he acknowledges in his ‘Campaign Killer’ blog”.

Absolutely nothing mentioned in the above paragraph provides any evidence that I “do what the industry tells me to do”. The writing of independent consultancy reports is not doing what the gaming industry tells me to do. My FOBT blog is not misleading. My critique of the gambling homelessness study is in the public domain and published in the world’s leading academic gambling journal (Journal of Gambling Studies). All the above paragraph demonstrates is that of the thousands of projects and activities that I have done in my career, a small minority have involved independent consultancy for a gaming company.

Further points: The CFFG article also makes some further points that I am happy to respond to. They claim that:

“In the last paragraph of his ‘Campaign Killer’ blog, Griffiths contradicts his previous FOBT blog in which he stated that banning FOBTs would result in an increase in remote gambling. He now states it would drive problem gambling underground. This change of FOBT defence is exactly the same change of FOBT defence used by the bookmakers. But there is no evidence to support either a switch to remote gambling or underground gambling through banning FOBTs or merely a FOBT stake reduction”

I haven’t changed or switched defence as the things I highlighted are not mutually exclusive. All I have dne is speculate that if gamblers cannot gamble on FOBTs because of a ban they would probably gamble elsewhere (e.g., illegal underground FOBT gambling, remote gambling, etc.). The CFFG then goes onto say:

“Most amazingly, Griffiths also claims that the principle of social responsibility includes “maximising fun for those who enjoy gambling”. This alleged component is not referred to in the 2005 Gambling Act and does not form part of the official remit of any of the relevant bodies – Department of Culture Media and Sport, the Gambling Commission, the Responsible Gambling Trust nor the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board. It is truly remarkable that Griffiths thinks he has the authority to advocate this definition”

The CFFG appear not to have realized that I have been writing about social responsibility in gambling for many years prior to the 2005 Gaming Act and to the formation of the Gambling Commission and the Gambling Strategy Board. My claim that social responsibility is about maximizing the fun for those that enjoy gambling and minimizing harm for those that are vulnerable comes from an article on social responsibility in gambling that I wrote in 2001 (you can download a copy from here where I mention this in the second paragraph). The Gambling Commission is under no obligation to use my views of what social responsibility is about. For me, one of the most important things about social responsibility is about getting the balance right. At its simplest level, my own view (in many of my social resposibility writings since 2001) has always tried to think how the non-problem gambler would react to having a prohibitions or restrictions placed upon them in an attempt to protect the most vulnerable. Finally, the CFFG talk about libel. They assert:

“The current standard of libel law relates to ‘substantial harm’ to a reputation whereas the prior standard related to a lesser standard of ‘harm’. Griffiths refers to being ‘previously vilified and criticized by the gaming industry’. It would be interesting to learn if Griffiths threatened the gambling industry with legal action under the lesser harm standard for that vilification”

In response to this question, I have only ever had to threaten legal action once as the majority of criticism I have received has been said without being libellous. This does not change my view that the tweets made by Parkinson are still potentially libellous.

I realize that the CFFG are likely to come back with yet another point-by-point retaliation but I am probably going to stop responding. I have done nothing wrong and I will simply have to accept that the CFFG will continue to smear my work. I have avoided the temptation of attacking their campaign philosophy and where they get their funding from as this has been written up by others. (If you are really interested in who funds the CFFG and why they do what they do, I suggest you check out this article by Mark Davies and the legal threats he then received – and this other article).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of online gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Good practice in the gaming industry: Some thoughts and recommendations. Panorama (European State Lotteries and Toto Association), 7, 10-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The relationship between gambling and homelessness: A commentary on Sharman et al (2014). Journal of Gambling Studies, DOI 10.1007/s10899-014-9491-0

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

Sharman, S., Dreyer, J., Aitken, M., Clark, L., & Bowden-Jones, H. (2014). Rates of problematic gambling in a British homeless sample: A preliminary study. Journal of Gambling Studies, DOI 10.1007/s10899-014-9444-7.

Campaign killer? Gambling with people’s reputations (revisited)

On Twitter last week, Adrian Parkinson of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (and the associated Stop The FOBTs campaign) posted a number of tweets about me (and my research). In the tweets, Parkinson said that (a) I am a “supposed academic”, (b) I am the “industry ‘funded’ defender of FOBTs” (fixed odds betting terminals), (c) I am “doing more dirty work” for the Association of British Bookmakers, and (d) I do “what the industry tells [me] to do”.

Parkinson Libel Tweets 2014

All of these assertions are untrue and potentially libellous. According to legal dictionaries, the official definition of libel is “to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others”. Based on this defintion, Parkinson’s tweets are potentially libellous and are definitely an attack on my professional integrity. This cannot go unchallenged so here are the facts of the matter in relation to the claims made.

  • “Supposed academic”: Obviously the assertion by Parkinson that I am a “supposed academic” is both false and deliberately malicious. An academic by most dictionary definitions is a teacher or scholar in a university or other institute of higher education”. As a professor employed at an English university, there is nothing “supposed” about my occupation or status. To add to this, I would point out that on the basis of my academic research and reputation I became of one of the UK’s youngest ever professors (aged 34 years). So far in my career, I have been awarded 14 national and/or international awards and prizes for my gambling research and research dissemination including three Fellowship awards (British Psychological Society, Royal Society of Arts, and the Academy of Social Sciences) and two Lifetime Achievement awards. I am also one of the most highly cited psychologists in the world (currently 17,500 citations on Google Scholar that you can check here).
  • “Industry funded’ defender of FOBTs”: Parkinson claimed that I am “funded defender” of FOBTs and the gambling industry. In my career to date, I have published approximately 460 academic peer reviewed journal papers (which most academics would describe as ‘prolific’ – and not bad for a “supposed academic”) and another 1000+ academic articles (in professional/practitioner journals, gambling trade press, newspapers, magazines, etc.). Of these 1500 or so papers and articles, none were funded by a research grant from the gaming industry. Two of the papers I have published – both concerning social responsibility in gambling initiatives – did arise out of gaming industry consultancy (one study was about gamblers’ attitudes toward the social responsibility tool PlayScan funded by Svenska Spel, and the other was the development of a new social responsibility tool for the gaming industry to use to protect vulnerable player funded by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation). Also, none of my published academic papers has ever been specifically about FOBTS. I have published a handful academic journal papers that have mentioned FOBTs in passing but all of those were papers based on data collected in the British Gambling Prevalence Surveys (of which I was one of the co-authors) and were funded by the Gambling Commission not the gambling industry. In 2008, I also wrote a report for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (again funded by the Gambling Commission) on high stake-high prize machines that included references to FOBTs. However, the only article I have ever published specifically on FOBTs was one of my previous blogs (which looked at FOBTS in relation to the BGPS findings). In short, the assertion that I am an “industry ‘funded’ defender of FOBTs” simply has no basis in truth whatsoever.
  • “Dirty work” for the Association of British Association of Bookmakers: Parkinson claimed I carry out “dirty work” for the ABB. In my academic career I have been a consultant in the area of responsible gambling for approximately 15 years and have written in the region of 150 consultancy reports. Of these reports, three have been for the Association of British Bookmakers. The first report (in June 2013) was evaluation and input into the new code of conduct concerning responsible gambling and player protection (and which I wrote about in a previous blog). I was invited to carry out this piece of work by Neil Goulden (Chairman of the UK’s Responsible Gambling Trust) specifically because of my reputation of being both totally independent and as someone that has been critical of the gambling industry on previous occasions in relation to social responsibility and player protection. More recently (July 2014), I was commissioned to carry out two further pieces of consultancy for the ABB. The first was a review of problem gambling in Great Britain and the second was a preliminary evaluation of the responsible gambling initiatives relating to the introduction of the ABB’s new Code of Conduct (both of which are being published today). All three pieces of consultancy that I have carried out for the ABB concerned player protection and responsible gambling. Far from being “dirty work” they are the very areas areas that are at the heart of almost all the research that I carry out into problem gambling.
  • “Doing what the industry tells me to do”: Of all the potentially libellous claims made about me by Parkinson, this is the one that is the most ludicrous. The main reason I was asked for my expertise in the first place by the ABB was because I have never been afraid to criticize the gaming industry when they have done something I believe to be wrong and/or socially irresponsible. Anyone who actually knows me and has followed my research career over the last three decades will tell you that the one common denominator is my absolute independence in anything that I do. For the best part of 15 years I was vilified and criticized by some members of the gaming industry because of my belief that vulnerable and susceptible people should be protected from the potential harms of gambling. When ‘social responsibility’ and ‘responsible gambling’ became important issues in gaining operating licenses, gaming companies soon started approaching me to help them develop their codes of conduct and player protection programs. In short, I have spent years telling the gambling industry what I think they should do to minimize problem gambling (not the other way around).

There are of course bigger issues here concerning research funding, and this is an issue on which I have published my own views (see ‘Further reading’ below). Parkinson’s incorrect and misguided comments about me appear to be based on the view that academics shouldn’t have any association whatsoever with the gambling industry. Unfortunately, this (in my opinion) is a blinkered view that will not help those that need it (i.e., vulnerable populations). Almost all of the ‘big name’ researchers in the gambling studies field have carried out research and/or consultancy funded by the gambling industry. When this happens it may call into question academic ‘independence’. However, industry funded research appears to be an increasing economic reality in many countries across the world. In the UK, the governmental philosophy of research funding relating to gambling is now ‘polluter pays’ (i.e., the UK government has said it will not fund research on gambling and that the industry will have to pay for such work itself). Although my own research is not industry funded, the current funding model is pushing researchers in the gambling field down such a route.

One researcher that I have published with (now retired from day-to-day university life) refuses to carry out research or consultancy if it is sponsored or funded by the gambling industry (even indirectly via the Responsible Gambling Trust 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, researchers who now want to pursue a research career in the gambling studies field will are likely to find that taking such principled actions will become a barrier to career enhancement.

Having been in the gambling studies field for nearly 30 years now, I feel very proud that over the last decade, some sectors of the gaming industry have now started to take the issue of social responsibility in gambling seriously. All the personal vitriol that I received for years from certain individuals working in the gaming industry appears (in retrospect) to have been worth it. My own view is that if those in the gambling industry are really serious about social responsibility, they need to sometimes work in partnership with researchers in the gambling studies field if the end goal is the same (i.e., protection of vulnerable individuals and minimization of problem gambling).

From my research, I have gotten to know people that have had gambling problems and that would like to ban slot machines (including FOBTs). This is highly unlikely to reduce gambling problems. We know that banning alcohol does not cure alcoholism. Similarly, banning gambling products will not solve the issue of problem gambling. It would only drive the activity underground. Most people that gamble (including myself) do not have a problem. The underlying principle of social responsibility is to maximize fun for those that enjoy gambling and minimize harm for those that may be vulnerable. Mr. Parkinson and his campaign have every right to express their views but what they say should have a basis in fact (rather than prejudice) and they definitely shouldn’t resort to questioning my reputation or research in the absence of the full facts.

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. (2009). A question of balance: prioritizing public health responses to harm from gambling. Addiction, 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. (2008). Impact of high stake, high prize gaming machines on problem gaming. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

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

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A. & Parke, J. (2009). Social responsibility tools in online gambling: A survey of attitudes and behaviour among Internet gamblers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 413-421.

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.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.