Big data in the production of ‘Safe Gamblers’ and a sustainable gambling industry: a genealogy of gambling regulation in Great Britain

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


For hundreds of years in Great Britain, the state has been concerned with the regulation of commercial gambling. The methods of regulation, however, have varied significantly from prohibition under the criminal law to a free market approach allowing the natural laws of competition to operate. In recent years, advances in technology and big data analytics, originally developed by the industry for the maximisation of profits, have been welcomed as a novel approach to protecting gamblers from harm.

Despite the disparate nature of the various approaches to the regulation of gambling during the course of history, this thesis aims to show that there is a common thread which runs throughout. Applying a Foucauldian lens, in particular using Michel Foucault’s later work on governmentality, this study argues that gambling regulation in Great Britain has, since the earliest official attempts to legislate on the activity, been concerned with the formation of a particular type of subject, who ‘knows’ certain ‘truths’ about gambling and behaves in accordance with those ‘truths’. Whilst this subject naturally varies in form across different periods in time, it is well-illustrated by Sir Frederick Flood during a House of Commons debate in 1818, when gambling was regarded as a vice to be suppressed:

[…] nothing could be more injurious to property, reputation, and life than the vice of gaming. It had brought many individuals to ruin, had produced great private misery, and had deprived the country of many persons who might otherwise have been useful and valuable members of society.1

Applying a genealogical approach, this research illuminates the ways in which gambling regulation has operated to create subjects who hold particular views about gambling and conduct their own behaviour in accordance with those views, so that they become ‘useful and valuable members of society’. Each chapter examines one of the discrete approaches to gambling regulation since 1541, defined in this thesis as a ‘regime’ of government. Over time, the techniques used in this process of subjection have evolved into a complex framework of mechanisms, which uses gamblers’ ‘freedom’ as a resource in the production of useful and valuable subjects. In this way, it is argued that notwithstanding the underlying ‘liberal’ ethos of the present statutory framework under the Gambling Act 2005, examined in Part II, gamblers today are subject to greater levels of regulation than when commercial gambling was unlawful. This is particularly true for online gamblers, whose conduct is regulated in increasingly intimate and pervasive ways through the application of continuous surveillance and big data analytics to facilitate a ‘safer’ form of gambling and protect ‘at risk’ gamblers from harm. The present regime, as examined in Chapter Four, thus operates to produce gambling subjects who autonomously gamble in a way which is considered ‘safe’. It also produces responsible operators who employ their data-driven technological capabilities to protect those gamblers who may be ‘at risk’, for example of spending more than they can afford. Though on the face of it, this appears to be a particularly caring, benevolent approach to regulation, this thesis seeks to problematise the apparently taken-for-granted assumption that the data-driven technologies, originally developed for commercial purposes, should be repurposed in this way. Instead, it is argued that in ‘protecting’ gamblers, these technologies also play a central role in their subjection. Thus, on closer examination of the present regime, this thesis identifies an inherent perversity whereby gamblers have effectively become a resource to be utilised in a safe, sustainable way in order to secure a sustainable gambling economy.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
  • McGrogan, David, Supervisor
  • Casey, Emma, Supervisor
Award date3 Jun 2021
Place of PublicationNewcastle Upon Tyne
Publication statusUnpublished - 3 Jun 2021


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