I work as a Professor of Law and Political Economy at the University of Birmingham. Much of my research has been on international development, but I have also long been interested in the legal boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate speculation. In 2008 I began a research project using commercial and non-commercial bingo to think in new ways about the regulation of everyday gambling. Funded by a grant from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ES/J02385X/1, A Full House: Developing A New Socio-Legal Theory of Global Gambling Regulation), I and a team of researchers explored bingo regulation around the world. We used a mixture of case law research, analysis of legislative debates, and in-depth socio-legal investigation into the rules that mattered most to players, operators, and regulators. In 2019 I published a book, Bingo Capitalism: The Law and Political Economy of Everyday Gambling, summarising the findings from the England and Wales research. It was awarded the 2020 Hart-SLSA book prize and the 2020 International Political Economy book prize of the British International Studies Association. I have also published findings on charitable bingo regulation in Canada, arguing that people’s encounters with rules about gambling can help us understand broader trends within economy and society.
More recently, I’ve been researching pandemic-era changes in gambling law and regulation. I’m interested in how those changes relate to customary understandings about legitimate speculation, including in a context of crisis. In 2022, I wrote a piece exploring the pandemic-era regulation of horserace betting, lotteries, and bingo in the UK. I found that gambling in some forms (horserace betting and lotteries) was important to pandemic recovery projects and to spectacles of national coming together. Via lotteries, for example, the state sought to adjust customary expectations about the role of volunteers in providing essential services. I identified some broader implications of this study, including on how essentiality is legally constructed, and on the intersection between gambling, charity, and volunteering within pandemic recovery.
I have just finished another piece of research examining a recent regulatory innovation intended to reduce gambling harm: affordability checks. This research stemmed from changes – some enacted, some proposed – to British online gambling regulation since 2019, involving affordability checks for players and related measures to develop a ‘single customer view’ of play that involves cross-operator data sharing. In particular, the national regulator (the Gambling Commission) has proposed that licensees use data on disposable income, including by postcode, to ascertain whether individual spending might indicate risk of gambling harm. It also suggests using other data on markers of potential vulnerability and financial harm such as county court judgements, ill-health or disability, bereavement, being a victim of domestic violence, having caring responsibilities, and spending a lot of time (but not a lot of money) playing. While the concerns about gambling harm that underpin these regulatory innovations are timely and serious, I locate the measures within a longer history of states trying to differentially control access to gambling for some groups of adults. I outline two grounds for concern about the affordability measures:
- the gambling industry’s enthusiasm for affordability checks, stemming from the potential value of the data to be shared, and
- the implications for groups of players who may already be disadvantaged and hyper-surveilled.
I raise these concerns in an attempt to identify better, more systemic solutions to gambling harm, including requiring that games involve a fair average return to players. I’d be happy love to share that new research, so if you are interested please drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.