In May 2022, the University of Bristol announced the launch of the Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research, the first academic research centre to specialise in addressing the impact of gambling harms across Great Britain. Through taking new and multidisciplinary approaches, the Hub aims to build a greater understanding of gambling harms, leading to evidence-based action to prevent and reduce the negative impacts of gambling.
We caught up with Professor John Foot, Professor of Modern Italian History, to hear about his role in the Hub, and to learn more about the importance of the Arts and Humanities in interdisciplinary research.
Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research
Professor John Foot
It is rare to be involved in a project that covers six faculties in the University, but the new Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research, funded by the Gamble Aware charity, was just such a bid. The Hub will seek to increase understanding and awareness of the dangers of gambling, and covers public health (from a number of perspectives); social and geographical research into gambling; the interactions between gambling and poverty; the role of advertising; the history, economics and politics of the gambling industry; and the psychology of gambling, among many other areas.
This £4-million+, four-year project will allow for an unprecedented series of interactions between expert researchers across a range of different departments and schools in a way which has hardly ever been seen in any institution. The Hub aims to make concrete recommendations for the treatment of gambling addicts and the reform of the gambling industry. It will provide a forum for debate and the dissemination of research, policy discussions, and publications, as well as funding for PhD students and a lectureship in gambling studies.
The role of the Arts and Humanities
In terms of the Faculty of Arts, the Hub will bring together academics from Modern Languages and other disciplines – including Anthropology, History and Philosophy – to cover a range of focus areas, such as the ethical implications of gambling, debates around advertising, and the history of how gambling has changed and evolved.
My particular areas of interest involve research into the long history of illegal gambling, the deep connections between gambling and corruption in professional sport, and the development of gambling from a rigidly controlled activity carried out in person using cash in betting shops to one using digital and phone technology. Other key areas being investigated include the connections between the illegal and legal sectors, and the ways in which gambling has led to numerous sporting scandals.
Some ex-footballers with gambling issues, such as former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, have become campaigners against advertising in sport. One of the aims of our research will be to connect these campaigns and campaigners and their personal experiences of gambling addiction.
There are also ongoing and long-running debates around the ethics of betting advertising during sport, and the connections to match and spot-fixing which has affected sports in a serious way, in particular within football, tennis, snooker and cricket. Major sporting scandals have arisen around betting connections to match fixing and other forms of fixing, such as Calciopoli in Italy in 2006.
The importance of multidisciplinary research
Academic colleagues joining me to help develop these research ideas include Professor Matthew Brown and Professor Martin Hurcombe, experts on sport in South America and France, respectively. They bring historical and other methodologies to bear on this subject, as well as access to networks in specific regions (such as Argentina, Brazil and Colombia) and expert areas (such as sports specialists). The Hub will also tap into networks and expertise provided by the Brigstow Institute, which has a special emphasis on local actors and coproduction of research.
Another key area of study for the Hub is the transition of gambling from an activity which had boundaries and borders, to the ability to bet internationally on an almost limitless variety of events, and through mobile phones and computers. The study of this transition and its effects on the spread, impact and business of gambling is essential to an understanding of harm reduction and how it can be brought about today.
Find out more about research in the Faculty of Arts