Lived Experience Activism

Lived Experience Activism

Not Just a Ticked Box


For many years across the health sectors there has been an explicit recognition of the importance of the voices of lived experience. There are many good reasons for this, including:

1. Only the lived experience of individuals can contribute to a full understanding of the nature of specific ‘disorders’, elsewhere portrayed in ‘objective’ clinical categories and diagnoses.

2. Sharing experiences can help others recognise that they are not alone and provide opportunities for mutual support.

3. Experience of health service users should be a strong part of evaluation and health improvement.

4. Voices of experience are at the centre of community based resources such as user-led groups, campaigning and human scaled support.

5. Healthcare provision should not be a ‘top down’ process. Voices of experience should have genuine power to influence policies, strategies and implementation of services.

6. Experts by experience are best placed to design resources for self management of health problems.


There is always the danger that an element of tokenism may creep in. Institutions and third sector organisations, under pressure especially from funders to demonstrate engagement with voices of experience, may ‘use’ such voices to lend an appearance of full engagement. A box may be ticked. A ‘case’ may be ‘wheeled out’. In some ways the situation is analagous to political representation. The ‘voice of the British people’ is a constructed piece of rhetoric, and though focus groups and the like exist at local level for citizen involvement, the real power structures and decisions remain largely unaffected.

What can also be the case is that experts by experience are engaged with not as equal participants but as ‘witnesses’ rather than judges. There can be a hidden assumption to that those who have suffered are to be variously regarded as identified with stigmatising lack of full human agency, to be seen as their clinical condition rather than as a complete person who happens to have or have had a condition. Such voices are kindly invited to take part in a preset agenda. Interaction, conversations and ideas are limited to such agenda in the way that a survey response is limited by the form it takes.

Good Practice

The Scottish Health and Social Care Alliance’s project of Reducing Gambling Harms is based upon lived experience. Recently appointed, a PhD student will begin work in October to seek out and conduct in-depth work with individuals in Scotland who have suffered from gambling harms. Such qualitative research marks the turn from quantative research (facts, figures, data, statistics etc.), this being seen in the work of Gerda Reith and colleagues at Glasgow University.

Facilitated by project manager William Griffiths at the Alliance, a lived experience forum has been established. This has been characterised by agenda and priorities being determined not by the manager but by the forum members. One outcome has been the creation of the Three Horizons model shown above. (To dowload as a pdf click 3 HORIZONS ). The model shows clearly the important issues to be addressed in evaluating the present state of attention to gambling harms, and a step-change to what is needed and hoped for in the future. What this work demonstrates is that voices of lived experience are more than tokens of ‘illness’ but active agents of change. The Alliance project is a clear example of genuine engagement.

Beyond the larger organisations’ initiatives, the field of reducing gambling harms is filled with actions for change by people with lived experience of gambling harms. Today (4 June 2021) sees the start of a walk from Scotland to Wembley Stadium as campaigning to remove football’s link with gambling. The Big Step, organisers of the walk and created by lived experience individuals, grew from the work of Gambling with Lives, founded by parents bereaved by suicides completed by their children who were driven to despair by gambling. There are links to these and many other grassroots organisations on our Activists page. It is these activists, motivated by lived experience, who currently are major agents of change. There are, too, other actors such as politicians, academics, public health bodies, medical associations, journalists, lawyers. In informal networks, outside ethe constarints of this or that institutional agenda, the campaigning for change to the gambling landscape offers a model of how the voices of experience can work with many sectors as equal partners to bring about health improvement.


A great tribute from Nadine Ashworth, Peer Mentor for the NHS Northern Gambling Service, to those who have lived through the experience and now seek to better the world.


Trust Me: the film

Trust Me: the film

Trust Me: the film



Here is a great example of FastForward’s work. Starting life as a play co-produced with young people the original toured schools in Scotland from the Borders to the Highlands, evolving over time to become a film. Trust Me was premiered across Scotland on 27 May 2021 as a live Youtube event. The screening was followed by conversation between the film’s director and the actors who then answered questions live from schools in Scotland.

Like all of Fast Forward’s work, there is no aim of telling young people what not to do. It is not prescriptive but descriptive, representing choices and journeys made by people in real life, allowing audiences to think for themselves about issues. The film’s website, where you can watch the film, includes sections for young people teachers and youth workers each with relevant supplementary resources.

It’s also very watchable – a must, of course! Click here to watch and find out more. Behind the film are years of hard work and commitment to the value of the arts in education, a clear example of the ‘creative spark‘.




Aunty Joan

Aunty Joan

Aunty Joan


If you like a short story here’s a very sad one about an elderly woman and scratchcards.

No happy endings alas.

Best to have your hanky handy.

Aunty Joan

Complex Needs Require Expertise

Complex Needs Require Expertise

Complex Needs Require Expertise

Gambling often comes with other ‘fun’ activities such as smoking and drinking. The strong risks that smoking and drinking may kill you or make life misery don’t deter people. Even gamblers who should know a thing or two about risks don’t stop when the fun brings horrific hangovers or lung disease. Dependence and addiction are sly. Couple them with underlying depression and anxiety which they amplify, and deteriorating physical health, and we begin to see how support and treatment need expert unravelling of all the factors – which may include debt, unemployment, poverty, relationship breakdown. In ongoing distress people may drink more, use drugs, smoke more and gamble more.

Smoking, drinking, drugs and gambling


It is usual for health providers to separate alcohol from ‘drugs’ despite alcohol’s being a hard drug which globally represents by far the most damaging harms to a person’s health, wellbeing and life itself. Modern research increasingly shows that even ‘modest’ drinking is implicated in serious illnesses. It’s estimated that one in eight Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence syndrome. Add to that the role of alcohol in violence, murder, domestic abuse, suicide and widespread mental and emotional distress to drinkers and those around them. Most drinkers do so ‘responsibly’ though as said there is a growing scientific consensus that there is no safe level of drinking. The UK guidelines for ‘low risk’ drinking limit intake to 14 units a week, about six pints of beer, not to be repeated every week, and not to exceed 4.5 units on any day, about two pints.

Unfortunately, many people, mainly men, who experience gambling harms also have a tendency to drink far too much for their own good, smoke, or take other drugs. As people tend towards degrees of addiction and dependence a shared characteristic across behaviours is denial to self and others. Taking tobacco as an example not all the facts and figures, statistics, even the horrifying images on cigarette cartons of corpses or diseased lungs will deter some smokers. Something else is going on. We are not, though we like to think we are, rational creatures all the time. Something deeper is driving us. It is probably a universal experience of people with or nearing addiction that a war goes on in their heads: I desperately want to stop doing this. I desperately want to continue doing this.


Cross-Addictions and Comorbidity


Comorbidity refers to the existence of two or more ‘disorders’ which run together. It may refer, for example, to compulsive gambling and alcohol dependence. It often refers to the co-occurrence of mental health conditions and addictive tendencies. Depression and anxiety (and these two commonly occur together) may be the root states that drive a person to seek relief whatever the consequences. Or the use of drugs and gambling may cause such disorders and amplify them. Some of the rarer and most severe disorders carry with them a high risk of developing substance and behavioural painful consequences: people with bipolar condition, for instance, are 50% more likely than the general population to suffer from such consequences.

Another phrase used for comorbidity is ‘dual diagnosis’. In practice this often means that because ‘addiction services’ are set apart from ‘mental health services’ a person may be denied treatment for depression, for instance, until ‘addiction services’ have sorted out their substance or behavioural problems. We have tried to explain our unhappiness with the word addiction . It is encouraging that the word ‘alcoholic’ is slowly being replaced with ‘alcohol dependence syndrome’, a step in the right direction to reduce stigma. But no such new words spring to mind for gambling addiction and it remains a word, unpleasant as it is, that continues to point people to what is meant. Many gamblers will refer to themselves as having or having had an addiction and, of course, the NHS and third sector organisations headline their ‘addiction services’. What the word points to is a devastating mental health condition, and we hope that before long it is fully integrated into health and social services.


Unique Individual, Tailored Treatment/Support


We hear a lot about ‘person centred support’ and ‘holistic treatment and support’, these taking into account the unique circumstances of each individual. In practice unfortunately, there can be a one-size-fits-all approach coupled with an often arbitrary provision of services and pathways – where appropriate services are available at all. A person with gambling difficulties may have serious underlying health conditions including mental health issues, serious stressors particularly debt, relationship breakdowns and unemployment. Another gambler may face only serious debts, while another may find themselves in prison arising from desperate measures to combat debt. Not every gambler with major problems is an addict but every addict will have major problems arising from the addiction. As mentioned above, some people wit one addiction will have another, or may replace one addiction with another. Suffering from negative gambling consequences while harming body and mind with alcohol or other drugs, almost invariably with accompanying mental and emotional distress, sometimes with suicidal ideation, complicates the picture greatly. Denial and stigma are obstacles to seeking help, but when help and support are sought, for many they prove inadequate and unsatisfactory. And when a recovery process does begin it is far more the case than not that a person will suffer ‘relapses’. One person may be lucky enough to have family, spouse or friends support; others may face harsh judgment and ostracisation. The ‘legacy’ period after active addictions or heavy dependence will include factors such as money and debt stressors, regaining trust, finding employment and coping with stigma. These will impact on states of depression and anxiety. A sense of boredom and emptiness is common and may trigger a return to unhealthy behaviours. Such is the mental and physical damage incurred by years of alcohol dependence that a long period of post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) may last as long as seven years while the body and mind repair. Couple drinking with gambling, which has its own ‘withdrawal syndrome’, and it can be a very long road characterised by troughs of depression and anxiety.

That’s the bad news but most people have a better time of it. The luckier oness are able to recover well quite easily with minimal help, and many recover with no expert clinical support. One=to-one peer support, 12-steps and SMART Recovery benefit lots of people. And remember not to be dismayed by worst cases. Up to 30% of people stop spontaneously with no support; they decide to stop and stop. The main point is that there is no typical ‘addict’ because there is no typical individual. Services that provide support, often beginning with a GP, have to be especially sensistive to achieve as far as is possible an understanding of all the factors involved in an individual’s distress, and know that long term help may be required, and that the spectrum of pains cannot be eased with prescriptions for medication important as these may be when used appropriately to meet individual needs.

There are national third sector services offering support online and by telephone but the advice given is often (as reported by users) ‘generic’, as if the ‘problem’ fits into a neat box and can be addressed by a neat set of bullet point stages (which often include referral elsewhere). While NHS gambling clinics are learning as they grow and not magic bullets with 100% success rates, they do provide professional expertise, experience and knowledge of worthwhile support such as peer aid networks. Scotland should keep pushing for such expertise.




Jade’s Story

Jade’s Story

Jade’s Story


We’re extremely grateful to Jade Vallis for sharing her experiences and opinions here. There are so many issues raised. Jade expresses so well the pains of gambling, the guilt, the shame and the deeply internalised stigma. In her experience little support was to be found from doctors and nurses which suggests a worrying lack of professional awareness –  and sometimes insensitivity.

Gambling disorder, stigma and the barriers created for individuals seeking support.

by Jade Vallis

“How did stigma prevent me from seeking support during my Gambling?”

This is a question I have asked myself many times since I started my recovery from gambling disorder, every person who has suffered Gambling disorder will have slightly differing variations of what they have experienced, and what harmed them and their loved ones the most!

For me, it was a type of deep-rooted self-hatred. Feeling lost and like I had no real purpose. I had been made to doubt myself over & over again, I had dealt with stigma from the moment I fell pregnant with my first child at 17 years old. People would whisper behind my back; midwives would make remarks that made me feel horrible about myself, the most common misconception was I was having a baby to get a council house. The truth was as a new family we lived with my parents for nearly 3 years, when we moved into temporary accommodation because of a strain on my parents’ relationship with me.

My son was an incredibly happy accident and from the minute I found out about his little life, I protected it fiercely. I had to fight stigma when my son was going through the diagnosis process at CAMHS for ADHD & autism. The staff at his primary school made it out to be bad parenting, because I was a young mother. Even when he was processed and CAMHS had said they agreed with me about my son’s behaviour and compulsiveness. The school would continually make remarks such as ‘is there anything going on at home?’ or ‘there is nothing wrong with your son he is just naughty’ it used to make me so angry because any of the anxiety or low self-esteem my son had, was a result of how that school treated him.

I had started my family quite young, but my husband and I were responsible parents, we were married, and our home was a loving, fun home. None of that mattered though! And the reason was stigma. I tried to be involved with the school and was turned away with sarcastic comments and I gave up.


Internalised stigma, guilt and shame


While I was gambling, I knew for a long time that I was in trouble and that my gambling behaviour was out of control. I am generally a very honest & trustworthy person; I care about others and have empathy for all walks of life. I knew what I was doing to my family was wrong, I knew I would be harming them in one way or the other, none of that mattered while I was in that ‘zombie’ state. I just could not stop!

I had to spend every minute I could gambling on my I phone. I would pretend to be putting things away, I would wake up in the middle of the night and gamble, with my husband snoring next to me. I felt ashamed of myself and I felt like I had a dirty secret that I must protect at all costs. I am a mother and a wife, and I know right from wrong! I felt that I was a different person when I gambled and that was how I dealt with the fear, self-loathing, hatred, panic and self-sabotage. I felt that my gambling meant I deserved everything I was experiencing, and that’s why I self-harmed, I really believe gambling was a form of self-harm in a way. I could lose hundreds of pounds while in the same room as my husband or friends or family and act completely normal, inside I would be dying though.

It’s also why I cannot remember those years in active addiction, it was almost an out of body experience. I know that really bad stuff happened in that period, the first time I self-harmed I had lost about £400 in a couple of hours and that was my rent and shopping money, I did not know what to do so I called my dad and told him I had withdrawn the money and it had been stolen from my pocket. he lent me £250 but I felt complete and utter shame about it, I couldn’t tell anyone about it, and I was trembling with shame, guilt and disbelief I had lied about it. That I had made up such a serious lie to get more money to gamble.

I self-harmed that day and then went about my day as if that was all normal. One memory that I do feel awful about is that my teenage children needed money on their lunch accounts, and I had deposited the last £20 to my slots account, I had to make them packed lunch and take it into school, so they were not hungry. I still feel massive guilt over that. I have had to draw a line in all those feelings to move past the feeling of guilt and of being ashamed of myself and of self-loathing and self-hatred. I must remind myself I was mentally ill, although I have and do take responsibility too.


An invisible addiction/disorder

That is the worst part about gambling disorder, you cannot see the affects as in outward or physical signs. The person will have become an expert manipulator and a good liar, they will know how to mask what they are going through. They will know how to do awful things to gain money to feed their gambling demons. As many people who go through any type of addiction, when the individual feels they are ready to open up, they will.

My husband did not really start to suspect anything until a year into my gambling, although he knew something was not right. I call him a ‘human lie detector’ it is almost impossible to get anything past him. As well as my husband, I was lying to my mum, dad and other family members to borrow money for gambling. I pawned jewellery that held sentimental value, I never committed crime to fund gambling but that is not because of choice more the fact my mum would never see me without, and I used that to my full advantage.

Suicidal thoughts and ideas

Unfortunately, the rate of gambling related suicides is 250-650 per year in the Uk which is equivalent to 4-11%. People who are suffering with an addiction to gambling are 15% more likely to try to take their lives than other addictions, and at least 2 suicide are related to gambling disorder per day in the U.K. The thing that makes these statistics so heart breaking is that people do not realise they can overcome gambling disorder.

At my lowest point, I was having suicidal thoughts and often felt that my family would be happier without me around. Again, the thoughts of self-loathing and guilt were sometimes too much to bear. That’s where the self-harm became a regular occurrence. I felt as if I was taking back some control over my life, I could not control the gambling or the strain it took on my mental health, but I could control the physical pain.

A news report on channel 5 today reported a new study found over 54% of 17-year-olds have gambled in the past year, with it increasing to 64% of 20-year-olds gambling in the past year. The increase of advertising and accessibility to online gambling is having a detrimental effect on individuals, and their loved ones too. It is believed that for every disordered gambler there are up to 8 affected others.


Seeking support for gambling disorder

What support is out there for individuals who have a gambling disorder?

I wish I could say that the support is out there and that you can go to your GP and be given a clear treatment pathway, this is not the case. Unfortunately, the more known treatment providers are gambling industry funded. It begs the question “how can you treat a person whose problem comes directly from the industry that fund you?”

I had an encounter during the early weeks of my recovery, I had a blood test and the nurse asked me about my mental health. I explained I had recently gone through a gambling addiction, that I was in recovery and her response shocked me! Her reply was “so you’re behaving yourself then?”. I know she didn’t mean any harm, but it made me think that if I wasn’t happy within my recovery at that moment or was in active addiction and was looking for some support, I would have walked out and kept quiet about my gambling problems! Gambling disorder makes you feel like nobody will understand because of the message “when the fun stops, stop” and that comment by somebody in a position of trust would’ve backed up my thoughts of being ‘stupid’ or guilt or shame of my behaviour. Unfortunately, when I posted on Twitter about the conversation, I found I was not the only person who had experienced this.

  • @NoMoreGambling8 responded with “One & only time I’ve ever mentioned gambling addiction to my GP his response was ‘I have never really understood gambling. Can’t you just stop?’ I walked out and have not seen him since.
  • @nobet364 said ‘when a friend had stopped some anti-depressants the doctor said, ‘this does not mean you can start gambling again’.

Minimal research has been conducted for stigma against gambling addiction. Despite the major interference to help-seeking and recovery. A study on 44 people who had experienced gambling addiction and the related harm, revealed that problem gambling attracted acute public stigma. It was also shown that publicly, gambling addiction was seen as a personal failure rather than a mental illness. The participants were concerned about being viewed as having a gambling addiction/disorder because of the fear of demeaning stereotypes, social rejection, hostile responses and devaluing attitudes. They also showed they internalised perceived stigma as self-stigma with results including, low-self-esteem, low perceived social worth and mental/physical effects. Deep shame was a prominent universal emotion, which were made worse by relapses when they occurred. Secrecy was the main coping mechanism, with perceived self-stigma acting as major barrier to disclosure and treatment.

‘Responsible gambling’

The Betting and Gaming Council (the gambling industry body) likes to promote ‘responsible gambling’ or their rebranded ‘safe gambling’ and ‘When the FUN stops, stop!’ message. The messages are nonsense, in fact they are dangerous in my opinion. The message puts the complete responsibility on the individual, and away from the operators and the BGC. Although a disordered gambler will undoubtedly have to take responsibility to an extent, the gambling industry must start to do the same. The gambling operators do not adhere to the regulations set out to protect customers, they do not use the tools that are there to flag a person if they suddenly start to display erratic behaviour. The online slot games are addictive by design, some of the graphics on slot games of childhood Favorites, their theme tunes are also composed in such a way, they lull the user into a relaxed and comfortable state. The spin speeds easy to push over, and over again.

The messages posted on Twitter by Betting and Gaming Counsel are as follows……..

‘If you are worried about your gambling activity there are steps you can take to help you stay in control. Set limits, do not chase losses and do not gamble if you feel angry or anxious. You can also self-exclude or speak to the national gambling helpline’.

The message above puts the sole duty on the individual who is gambling, the reality is the operators have the data to identify when an individual’s gambling is problematic. The operators have the tools to stop accounts being used or to intervene, they just don’t.

Hopefully with the upcoming gambling act review, there may be changes that protect consumers more, properly regulate the operators and make sure gambling harm is minimal. Michael Dugher the Chief Executive Officer of the betting, gaming council or BGC has recently mocked a recovering gambling addict by calling him “roulette boy” and continuously rants on social media so I will not hold my breath……watch this space!

Thank you for reading,

Jade Vallis @jade_vallis


Gambling Watch Scotland

is here!

Our full site is now published. We hope you find it relevant and helpful. We’d love for you to follow us by email, drop us a line using the contact form, spread the word and send us your own news and articles.

There is quite a bit of fixing things to be done. Technical issues, navigation faults and spelling errors which we’ll try hard to eradicate.

Do let us know what you think of the site, especially about Martin’s talk.

Martin: the Interview

Martin: the Interview

We’re very happy to have received today the completed interview with Martin which will be at the heart of the Gambling Watch Scotland website. This is a very brave and absorbing testimony from a man who has committed to bring a message to people, to share with those going through what he went through and offer hope. If raising awareness and calling attention to an urgent public health issue is more important than ever, this film packs it all in.

The film has been produced to the highest quality. It is high definition which allows us in future to screen it in community settings. Very warm thanks to Jamie, who directed, filmed and edited, and to Ludo who did the sound recording and mixing. Thanks, guys, you were an absolute joy to work with.

Gambling Watch Sctland will be fully online by the end of March. There are some pages up already for you to browse. Particularly important is the Support section.

We’d love for you to sign up by email, join our forum, get in touch. write for us. We hope and want to see the site grow and it will be great if you can get involved.

Addiction and Society

Addiction and Society

Mural on the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery (Spring 2002). Photo by Peter Rima

Addiction and Society



The worldwide misery caused by addiction is immense, striking millions of people. Not only the ‘addict’ but those close to them are devestated. In addition, there are huge economic costs to society and billion pounds costs from crime.

Also, beyond the identification of the most extreme forms of addiction, millions more are affected by less intense effects (including those on a ‘slippery slope’). For example, there is a tremendous toll on those who drink too much without being recognised as ‘addicts’. One unlucky bet from a regular gambler could result in financial ruin and its implications.

For those who seek recovery there are many sources of help (and it is worth remembering that many recover without intervention). Some succeed, some succeed partially, some die. In the wider social and political, medical and support spheres, ‘addiction’ continues to be a central focus of debate and research.

It is generally recognised that more needs to be done. There are insufficient facilities that provide recovery options. Mental health services often relegate ‘addiction’ to being of less than primary concern. In society at large, while things like smoking addiction are accepted as important, the many other killers are less thought about, or thought about very differently. Often, for instance, heroin addiction is thought by many to be associated with moral and character defects. A key right-wing philosophy puts all the emphasis on ‘individual responsibility’. It is, sadly, very common to hear people say things like, ‘It’s their own fault. Nobody made them drink, take drugs, gamble etc.’

Anybody who has made the barest inspection of addiction studies knows that the end result of addiction is the product of many factors. Some of these include:

  • Individual susceptibility via genetics,  peer group behaviour, mental health, poverty, cultural capital, education.
  • Availability of harmful products.
  • Multiple and complex needs including the first group above, housing, unemployment, prison and crime, lack of family support.
  • Normalisation by industry and culture as a whole of harmful behaviours.
  • Lack of support services and lack of effective strategies for many people.
  • Stigmatisation. This hangs like a dark cloud over all discussion. Even recovered addicts themselves, usually unaware of how fortunate they are not to have faced any of the difficulties mentioned above, have been known to ‘blame the addict’ (while promoting their own self-satisfied moral strength).
  • Education has been recognised as an important factor in ameliorating future harms. Alcohol and gambling industries present themselves as concerned about that high percentage of people who are addicts (and from whom most of their profits come), supporting charities and research. They stress that their products are to be enjoyed as ‘fun’ (‘When the fun stops, stop’ is the gambling industry’s slogan). In educational institutions, there have been initiatives in recent years but these tend to be very patchy and under-evaluated: some amount to little more than a few lessons, or a lecture.
  • Advertising, especially for football gambling, has come in for criticism and many argue that it should go the way of tobacco advertising. Promotion by famous paid sports personalities has also been criticised especially for its effect on young people.
  • While the psychology of addiction is extremely complex, it is fairly simple to understand why so many people turn to drugs (and, remember, alcohol is a hard drug) to alleviate misery, to numb the pain. While it’s not surprising that this connection is found strongly in people who have the least going for them, it’s very important to remember that there are many varieties of psychic suffering, and addiction curses many high up on the social pecking order.
  • There is an increasing worry that something in culture and society is causing a stark rise in unhappiness and mental health disorders. Such conditions are breeding grounds for addiction. Many people are ‘self-medicating’ to escape misery, depression and anxiety.

I’ve purposely included in the above some value judgments because these are, like stigma, very common within any discussion of addiction. If you believe that the scourge of addiction and its devestating effects on millions of people can best be addressed by emphasising the responsibility of individuals to change their ways, I’d only disagree 90%. There is, and should be, a role for personal responsibilty, powerless people have to be given that power. But along with that, and along with intense attention to recovery, we need to address as well as possible the factors which encourage addiction in the first place. It’s not one or the other, that would be silly. Neither is it rocket science. If society regulates our food and medicines, the air we breathe, health and safety, then we can ask whether the regulatory frameworks in place for alcohol and gambling are adequate.

It’s not a question of banning or being anti-industry or anti-anything. Regulation is not a very exciting word but it’s crucial. There is a growing movement, for instance, including police officers and politicians, to legalise and regulate street drugs. Such a policy has been found to lessen drugs harm in countries like Portugal. But that’s a different story, and mentioned here only to throw in an other factor to what should be an ongoing debate.


(This post was originally published to The Machine Zone, 2 September 2018)







Vicious Games: Capitalism and Gambling

Vicious Games: Capitalism and Gambling

Vicious Games: Capitalism and Gambling. A Review



Wide-ranging and precisely researched. Professor Cassidy’s fieldwork as an anthropologist provides a fascinating insight into the actuality of the gambling industry in opposition to surface statistics and ‘evidence’. She shows the nexus comprising industry practice, government policies, regulation, academic research, technology, marketing and gamblers. Importantly, she removes any idea of a global approach: each state or region of the world has very varying practices involving many different factors.


A history of UK gambling from 1960 legalisation of betting shops through to the present online practices via the introduction of electronic gambling machines on the high street is contextualised within contrasting and complementing histories in other parts of the world. Personal work as a cashier in betting shops reveals the inherent violence in many and the risks to staff – a stark contrast to the stated industry policies of staff and customer protection. Cassidy’s experiences at gambling industry conferences and in headquarters of  major gambling companies captures not a monolithic perspective but multiple, often contradictory aspects of individual roles, the views of individual workers and, rather than a neat linear introduction of business responses to new models based around potentiating profit opportunities afforded by regulatory and technological developments, a fragmented, sometimes chaotic, ‘catching up’ by the industry.

The book demands that we stop thinking simply about the world of gambling. However, there is a strong advocatory impulse which. almost imperceptibly, draws to a conclusion. In many ways this conclusion was reached in Cassidy et al’s 2013 report ‘Fair Game: Producing gambling research’ at Goldsmiths, University of London, which you’ll find online. In the report, as in the book, the status of academic research is interrogated. Not only is it an ‘unpopular’ academic research interest, hence a paucity of good quality investigations, it has been used by the industry on occasions, paid for by the industry, as a rhetorical weapon. The sense is that the mantra of governments for ‘evidence’, industry claims that there is ‘no evidence’ that gambling provision causes no harm to the vast majority of players, is something of a fig leaf.  The research approach of Cassidy, an anthropologist, is in total contrast to what, in any case, is fairly febrile data-driven approaches (for one, data is incredibly difficult to come by). In sum, the great weaknesses of gambling research are unearthed. And in any case, at the end of the day governments, legislators, policy makers, regulators and industry do not make decisions based upon ‘evidence’.


As well as the excellent insights afforded by Cassidy’s conversations with a range of stakeholders from industry CEOs to people who have been grievously harmed by modern gambling products, where the book excels is in Cassidy’s placing gambling in the context of neoliberal capitalist ideology. At a simple level this can be charted in the Thatcher-Reagan turn to market freedom and an emphasis on ‘personal responsibility.’ There’s no such thing as society, only individuals who have the power to shape their life, the responsibility and freedom to do so. If a person runs into trouble with gambling (or any legal product) it’s their own fault. They are weak, flawed, bad. Although Cassidy discusses a public health approach (in theory) to gambling problems, I think it would have been helpful to put this in the wider context of mental health ideology, since gambling or any other ‘addiction’ is a mental health issue (though in practice the medical establishment sometimes has difficulty dealing with this, although individual professionals do their very best to change such practice and underlying assumptions). Concentration on individual ‘pathology’ is endemic in all branches of mental health research and society: one senior gambling executive claimed that ‘problem gamblers had ‘brain diseases’ to start with. There is, of course, resistance to the dominant ideology, resistance which asserts the centrality of ‘problem’ environments – inequality, poverty, exploitation by clever marketing and so on.


Cassidy argues that this dominant focus upon the individual reinforces and reproduces the emphasis on ‘responsible gambling’. In fact, ‘An experiment which began in the 1980s ((financial deregulation, neoliberalism)), to shift the burden of risk from the state to the citizen, has increased inequalities and changed the ways in which we imagine wealth is created and shared. Gambling has been at the heart of these shifts: in the City as it deregulated and embraced riskier, increasingly complex and opaque ways to make money, becoming less and less accountable as a result, and in government itself, which encouraged citizens to become self-sufficient individualists.’


The promotion of ‘responsible gambling’ reflects this ideological construction of ‘self-sufficient individualists’. Dominant narratives around gambling are based upon this attitude, an attitude taken as something as natural and realistic as the way things really are, as natural as nature. Cassidy’s book is a powerful challenge to these dominant narratives. The last line of the book is optimistic. I won’t repeat it here but comment that its an excellent coda.


As a layperson I want to add that the book is very accessible, and short, while remaining academically rigorous. It has so much in it, so many interweaving levels, that the only way to do justice to it is to urge people to read it

(Review by Adrian Bailey from The Machine Zone)



We had a great time with Martin being interviewed for the main film on Gambling Watch Scotland. Location filming next week and you’ll be able to see the movie in March.

Brilliant, highly skilled and very friendly crew, Jamie on cameras, and Luke on sound recording. Thanks so much.

Hard-hitting and gritty story from Martin but we ended with a real uplift. Having always loved saxophone, in his gambling days Martin owned one for three days before pawning it. He’s now taking lessons, and gave us a blast. Some way to go before he can match John Coltrane but what a great thing to have in your life. Towards the end of his interview Martin talked about the importance of  finding things that are worthwhile to replace the wasted and dark days of gambling. Discovering and recovering.