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About Our Project

A Full House: Developing a New Socio-Legal Theory of Gambling Regulation

Dr. Kate Bedford (Reader in Law, Kent Law School)

Dr Donal Casey (Director of Learning and Teaching, Kent Law School)

Prof. Toni Williams (Professor of Law, Kent Law School)


Project Summary

We are academics with backgrounds in law, politics, and sociology. We have undertaken a comparative research project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, into the regulation of gambling.

Previous studies of gambling law reform have provided insights for policymakers and academics concerned with the regulation of risk and speculation. This project sought to make a contribution to those debates by focusing on bingo. Bingo is a markedly under-researched site, attracting a fraction of the attention given to casinos. However it is a globally significant and profitable gambling form, played in many countries and increasingly popular online. As a key site for working class women's gambling, bingo also reveals the resilience of gendered and class-based gambling cultures: in the UK commercial bingo halls outnumber casinos by a factor of five. Moreover the game is enmeshed with law and political economy in distinctive ways. For example it is a key site for charity fundraising in many jurisdictions, and even when played commercially it is often associated more with community and social welfare than with gambling. This legal and social position, at the intersection of risk and welfare, poses significant challenges for regulators, and raises important questions about how the governance of speculation is related to concerns about social cohesion and nonprofit activity.

Using four case studies of bingo regulation (England and Wales; Canada; Brazil; and online play offered to residents of EU countries), our research aimed to provide the first systematic account of how the sector is regulated. We ascertained the key legal and policy challenges involved in regulating bingo as experienced by a variety of stakeholders, and make recommendations to UK policymakers, the UK bingo industry, third sector stakeholders, and academics. Key questions included:

  • How, and to what end, is bingo regulated in each jurisdiction? What is the role of charity, criminal, and commercial law?
  • Where is enforcement power located, in law and practice?
  • Are laws governing bingo being relaxed as part of trends towards global gambling liberalization?
  • Is play being standardized, converging towards a global norm?
  • Which rules are most important to various stakeholders, and why? Which are ignored and why?
  • Whose priorities appear to be reflected in new legislation and case law?
  • What are the key regulatory challenges and disputes about? How do various actors understand those challenges, and seek to resolve them?
  • How, if at all, are responsible gambling concerns evident in relation to bingo regulation?
  • How, and to what extent, does it matter to regulators that bingo is part of a gendered gambling culture? Does the female-dominated nature of the game affect its regulation?
  • Which charities and community projects is bingo money used to fund? What relationship do those projects have to bingo players? To the commercial arm of the industry?
  • What strategies, if any, are being undertaken by policymakers to support bingo, and how do these strategies position other stakeholders (the players, the volunteers, the employees etc.)? What accounts for the perceived success of failure of those initiatives?
  • What does the regulation of bingo in different contexts tell us about how governments perceive the role of profit-making within broader community welfare projects?

To answer these questions we have:

a) reviewed the current legislation, licensing guidance, and case law shaping regulation of gambling in general and bingo in particular;

b) analysed public statements from bingo stakeholders (i.e. in research recommendations on the sector commissioned by regulatory agencies; reports in the national and local press/in online blogs; responses to government or provincial consultations; advocacy from industry associations, charity associations);

c) interviewed key stakeholders involved in bingo regulation, and

d) conducted participant observation in legal bingo games (virtual and land-based) to experience how rules and regulations are interpreted and enforced.

For more information, please contact Kent Law School's research support team: