John McAlaney is a Professor of Psychology here at BU. His work with the University’s Gambling Research Group uses behavioural data to prevent problem gambling online. As well as influencing some of the UK’s major gambling operators, his work is reaching policymakers interested in the growing trend in ‘digital addiction.’
It's a challenging environment, but we can still influence
The UK hasn’t had new primary legislation on gambling since the 2005 Gambling Act, but the industry has changed massively since then. Online gambling especially has evolved – it’s become incredibly sophisticated. The pandemic accelerated its popularity too, because the casinos, racecourses and bookmakers were closed.
Our research backs the call to policymakers to design new legislation that keeps up with this changing landscape. A White Paper, which precedes legislation, was due in July 2022 but with the current Government turmoil, it’s not clear when that’s going to materialise…! It might even be the case that new ministers don’t back plans for change at all. Influencing in this environment is a challenge, with a constantly shifting audience!
We’ve reached out to wide audiences
Thankfully, as well as trying to influence Government we’ve been liaising with Parliament more widely. We hope this means pressure on Government will continue. For example, the House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee looked into gambling’s social and economic impacts and I was delighted to be invited to give evidence in a hearing. The Committee were incredibly well informed and we had an excellent discussion. The final report quoted our evidence, recognised how addictive online gambling can be and recommended a range of measures Government should implement.
As well as informing the (cross-party) Committee, we met with Labour policy advisers to tell them about our work, as they wanted to know more about the marketing techniques used by gambling companies. It’s important to talk not just to politicians and to civil servants, but to some of the behind-the-scenes policymakers in opposition parties too. They’re also responsible for developing policy and may be in Government sooner rather than later!
Face-to-face in the corridors of power
We’ve planned a report and events to coincide with the publication of the White Paper, when that happens. It’s important that we time our influencing right to get the ear of policymakers We’ll be including clear recommendations for best practice in the gambling industry. To make sure our work is accessible to policymakers we’ll be producing a short one-page briefing and an accessible Roadmap document with infographics and case studies of people with lived experience of gambling harm. Importantly, although we’re holding an event in Bournemouth, we’re also having a Parliamentary Reception in Westminster to which we’ll invite policymakers. Taking our research to a location that works for them gives us the best chance of having face-to-face, in-depth discussions.
John’s top five tips for successful Westminster events
- An MP or peer can book a room on the Parliamentary Estate – this is the best location for getting policymakers to attend.
- Make sure you hold the event on a Tuesday or Wednesday to maximise attendance by MPs.
- Keep any speeches or policy presentations short, interesting and to the point.
- Provide concise briefings for the audience to take away and hard copies of any reports. Anything more, consider giving out memory sticks.
- Provide wine and nibbles – these are incredibly helpful in enticing people to drop by!