SPS Research on Gambling and its Impact

The UK Government is currently undertaking a review of the Gambling Act 2005, the basis for all gambling regulation. The review has come about from the recognition that the way in which people gamble and the industry has drastically changed. With the rise of smartphones there has been a huge increase in online gambling, making a large impact on individuals, their families, and society.

Within the School of Social and Political Sciences some of our staff and students have been researching gambling and its effects, contributing to policies and reviews, and leading on projects for change.

PGR student, Robin Ireland, is finishing his thesis ‘Commercial Determinants of Health in Sport. The example of the English Premier League’. His objectives were to consider the commercial determinants of health in sport and how these may be reflected in football and the English Premier League specifically; and to explore the nature of marketing of unhealthy commodities across different media in the English Premier League (EPL) clubs and Premier League across two football seasons (2018/19 and 2019/20).

Robin conducted four inter-linked studies to address his objectives:

  • An internet scoping study of the sponsorship deals of EPL clubs in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 football seasons
  • A content analysis of visual references to unhealthy brands during five EPL matches broadcast on subscription television in 2019
  • The marketing strategies used by four EPL sponsors drawn from the gambling, food, beverage and alcohol industries
  • A qualitative study capturing the stakeholders’ views about unhealthy brand sponsorship in football.

His research found that gambling brands are most prominent in club sponsorships and during ‘live’ football programmes. The brands appear both on players’ shirts and in pitch perimeter advertising. Sophisticated marketing strategies then activate traditional and digital methods to engage fans as consumers. Stakeholders’ views on sponsorship reflect their level of economic and cultural capital.

Robin’s research is the first to provide a case study of unhealthy sponsorship in sport and has gathered a range of media coverage. His research was used for the Channel 4 documentary ‘Football’s Gambling Addiction’, in which Robin discussed his findings. Together with his PhD supervisor, Dr Chris Bunn, he wrote a piece for The Conversation Euro 2020: football’s promotion of unhealthy consumption must end’. On the back of that Robin took part in a TV debate for France 24 on ‘Dangerous game:Does football have an online gambling problem?’.

Robin hopes his research will engage with policy makers and help influence policy. Already it has been part of a submission to the UK Government Review of the Gambling Act 2005.


Dr Heather Wardle (Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Reader in Sociology) is Principal Investigator of the Wellcome Trust Funded project: technological change and the health and wellbeing of youth: a case study of gambling. The project focuses on how changes in technology underpin the way in which gambling is provided and promoted, and how this impacts on the ways in which the gambling industry commercialise and market their products. This work has explored links between skin betting, loot boxes and problematic gambling behaviours; the intersection between gaming and gambling; the relationship between problem gambling and suicidality among young people.

Following on from this work, Heather has written a new book, ‘Games without Frontiers? Socio-historical perspectives at the gaming/gambling intersection’.

Wellcome’s ambitions were to establish gambling as a public health issue. Together with Professor Gerda Reith, Heather published an analysis paper in the BMJ: ‘Gambling and Public Health: we need policy action to prevent harm’. This was the first peer-reviewed analysis of gambling as a public health issue to be published in the BMJ. It highlighted the funding and policy gap for gambling harms prevention and suggested that the socio-ecological model, adapted for gambling, could be used as a framework for policy action. This model has since been adopted by the Gambling Commission in their approach to harm reduction in their National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.

Heather is co-Chair of the Lancet Public Health Commission on Gambling. This aims to address gambling as a global public health issues and to generate recommendations for action to provide and regulate gambling in the public interest. Heather has conveyed a global panel of researchers to work on this Commission which will generate new insight into the harms associated with gambling and on the corporate practices that underpin them. She presented the work of the Commission at the Third WHO Forum on Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours. This was the first time that gambling had been given a platform at this forum.

Heather has recently presented a three-part documentary series for the BBC World Service on gambling in Kenya, Albania, and USA. The Responsible Gambling Federation of Kenya are now using parts of the programme in their outreach and advocacy work.

Heather has also featured on the College of Social Sciences’ Spotlight podcast where she discussed her research and the review of the UK Gambling Act.


Professor Gerda Reith (Professor of Social Sciences) is Principal Investigator of the Football Fans and Betting project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The project aims to deliver a 9 week programme to football fans who want support to reduce their gambling involvement. Delivered through football clubs and in partnership with Healthy Stadia, it is the first intervention of its kind to be developed and evaluated worldwide.

Gerda has written a book, ‘Addictive Consumption: Capitalism, Modernity and Excess’, which uses case studies of gambling, drugs, alcohol, and fast foods to explore ideas about addiction and excess.  She uses ideas about consumption and addiction to explore issues around identity and desire, excess and control and reason and disorder in capitalist modernity.


Dr Chris Bunn (Research Fellow and Lecturer in Sociology) and Professor Gerda Reith, along with their team, have focused their work on Malawi and the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region, exploring the rapid spread of commercialised forms of gambling. EPL’s global audience of over 3 billion people is exposed to around 184 gambling references per broadcast. In SSA Betway reinforce their presence and increase audience exposure to their brands by sponsoring Super Sports’ EPL broadcasts. These deals include advertising which is imposed over the footage of the game or boarders the footage. This increases exposure to gambling advertisements in a region of the world where gambling-related harm can have more significant consequences and where support services are extremely limited.

The normalisation of gambling advertising associated with the EPL and its clubs has also vastly increased the spread of gambling companies in some of the poorest nations of the world, where regulatory bodies face implementation challenges. In Malawi Premier Bet marketed sports gambling as a skill and a form of income in national newspapers. In 2017-18 their Malawi revenue of £2.1m exceeded Malawi’s national mental health budget.

The impact of growth of commercialised forms of betting in low and middle income countries such as Malawi, can be extremely damaging. In studies with regular sports bettors the team found men who self-describe as ‘addicts’, who pursue gambling in an attempt to escape extreme poverty, and whose household budgets for food and other essential items are put at risk by their gambling.

The team suggests the Gambling Act Review considers the global implications of UK legislation, particularly for those in SSA where regulation of gambling is often weak or under resourced, is positioned as a form of income, and where support mechanisms are scarce.

Looking to the future, the team, along with colleagues from the Universities of Bath, Ghana and MEIRU, received a British Academy Youth Futures grant to carry out the following work in Ghana and Malawi:

  • conduct a policy review
  • conduct a literature review of literature on youth gambling
  • do a piece of Participatory Action Research with 48 young people (24 in each country)


Heather, Gerda, and Chris, alongside their colleague Dr Fiona Dobbie, have established Gambling Research Glasgow, a research collective which explores the social impacts of gambling, particularly its effects on vulnerable groups, and on the cultural and political context of the expansion of commercial gaming. Further details of their work can be read on the group website.