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Bingo: not a distraction

Dr Kate Bedford, Reader in Law at Kent Law School, explains why she is delighted that this week's budget speech has thrown the spotlight on Bingo.

Dr Bedford said: 'In Wednesday's budget speech the Chancellor George Osborne announced the halving of bingo duty. Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps tweeted the news.

'This has caused quite a stir. According to our own search that morning (19 March), two of the top 10 twitter trends were about bingo, and a range of commentators – from very different political persuasions – were debating how the reduction in duty should be interpreted, politically and socially.

'As an academic who studies bingo regulation, I am delighted at the spotlight being thrown on the game. With my colleagues Oscar Alvarez-Macotela and Toni Williams I am in the midst of a three-year research project, The Bingo Project, funded by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), examining bingo regulation in different places. As part of this I have been analysing the Parliamentary record on bingo since 1862.

'The analysis so far suggests that one commentator in the current debate is mistaken. Nick Clegg has claimed that the twitter storm is silly, and a distraction from the real economic issues. On this, the Parliamentary record disagrees.

'Although I am in the early stages of analysing the material we have gathered, it is already clear that politicians’ debates about bingo – in the Commons and Lords – reveal a lot about how lawmakers understand gambling, law, and growth. For example, Conservatives criticised Labour for creating a ‘bingo society’ in the 1960s where the value of hard work and savings was eschewed.

'Bingo was hardly favoured by the left, though. Some Labour MPs also criticized their leadership for promoting visions of national industrial development that side-lined manufacturing while allowing for the growth of bingo – a sector in which there was somewhat less pride. Bingo was even a theme during the 1973-4 fuel crisis, with several MPs – including Tony Benn - raising objections to the fact that bingo halls were exempted from compulsory energy conservation measures.

'Since the 1950s family allowances have been attacked for being wasted on bingo – in a Commons debate on increasing family allowances in 1968 there were eight references to bingo in this vein. In the 1970s and 1980s, several Conservative MPs mobilised support for measures to increase private medical care within the NHS on the grounds that people who were free to spend their money on bingo were not free to spend it on BUPA. There is also a long history of politicians (from both major parties) supporting bingo in the interests of freedom from state interference, raising objections to police crackdowns on players and providers, and to magistrates who attempted to block people in their constituency from legally playing the game.

'The Hansard record tells us a lot about how law-makers understand the role of criminal law, licensing, and tax in relation to leisure and growth. Bingo debate isn’t silly and it isn’t a distraction: it is actually quite revealing.'

Find out more about the Bingo Project here.


Story published at 11:37am 21 March 2014

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