Gambling Cultures
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Gambling Cultures

Studies in History and Interpretation

Jan McMillen, Jan McMillen

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eBook - ePub

Gambling Cultures

Studies in History and Interpretation

Jan McMillen, Jan McMillen

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From bingo in the United Kingdom to slots in Las Vegas and Sydney, to `jambo' in Cameroon, gambling is a feature of societies across the world. Gambling Cultures explores the complex relationship between cash and culture as gambling emerges as a global phenomenon. Traditional accounts of gambling's pleasures and dangers talk in terms of addiction, compulsion, greed and profit. By contrast, this work focuses on modern gambling as it has emerged as a commercial industry, analyzing the ambiguous relationship between morality and risk taking and studies the contradictory stance of governments. Providing a range of case studies from Africa, Australia, the USA and Europe, Gambling Cultures offers a unique, comparative framework for the historical and cultural analysis of contemporary gambling practices.

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Informazioni

Editore
Routledge
Anno
2005
ISBN
9781134916474
Edizione
1
Argomento
Arte

1
UNDERSTANDING GAMBLING

History, concepts and theories

Jan McMillen

Gambling is one of the few social activities that occurs in nearly all cultures and in every period of time: in this respect it can be said to be virtually a universal phenomenon in human societies (Wykes 1964; France 1974). Chinese gambling, for example, can be traced back more than 4,000 years. Excavations at Ur (2000 BC), Crete (1800 BC), Egypt (1600 BC) and India (1000 BC) have unearthed dice and gaming boards; betting on horse-racing was common among the Hittites (4000 BC). Archaeological records show that for over 2,000 years many ancient Asian and Arabian societies have tossed tokens or coins to guide decisions; similar games were popular with the Greeks and Roman legions. Gaming was so popular with soldiers during the Crusades that in order to maintain discipline King Richard I forbade gambling among soldiers below the rank of knight. Governments and philanthropists long ago recognised the potential of popular gambling to generate extra revenues for public works. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Anne, state lotteries raised funds for London’s water supply, to pay the salaries of civil servants, and to finance the colonisation of America. In North America throughout the eighteenth century, lotteries were an accepted means of financing public projects such as bridges and roads, churches and universities.
Despite its apparent universality, the concept of gambling has no intrinsic meaning; rather, its meaning always depends on the socio-historical context in which it occurs. The perception and experience of gambling vary significantly—in its history, its organisation and its meanings—according to different types of gambling, the various groups involved, and the particular society within which the gambling takes place. As it is understood in modern societies, gambling commonly refers to risk-taking activities which can be found in almost every aspect of social life, from personal relationships to international politics. In contemporary academic research, however, ‘objective’ criteria are used to distinguish gambling from other risk-taking social behaviours. The convention is to define gambling narrowly in terms of financial transactions—the staking of money, or an item of economic value, on the uncertain outcome of a future event. It is significant that this definition excludes both informal private gambling, where money is merely circulated among players without generating a profit, and investment in the stock market, where speculation is for long-term financial or commercial gain through industrial activity (Abt et al. 1985:37; Huizinga 1949:52–3). Although this narrowly economic definition has currency in twentieth-century capitalism, gambling has different components and meanings in other socio-historical contexts. In pre-capitalist societies, such as Bali, China, Africa and Australian Aboriginal communities, gambling traditionally has been primarily for socially defined ends, often organised around religious or communal activities with little direct economic significance (Altman 1985; Geertz 1972; Maclean 1984).
In capitalist societies, gambling activity increasingly takes place in circumstances which allow an individual, group or organisation to extract a profit from the transaction. Yet until recently gambling has been subjected to considerable intellectual and political disapproval with strong moral overtones. There has been a long history of British and European states submitting gambling to a variety of regulations under the guise of preventing exploitation, public nuisance controls and the eradication of ‘vice’ (Miers 1980; Wykes 1964). Even when public lotteries were used to fund popular and prestigious causes, such as the establishment of the British Museum and north American universities, inadequate government supervision and the discovery of frauds and widespread cheating frequently caused a public outcry which fostered an anti-gambling response by governments. Analytical definitions of gambling are particularly sensitive to such shifts in social conditions and ideologies of control. Periodic reformulations of the relation between gambling and society have been related to culturally and historically accepted definitions of what gambling is, influenced by fluctuating conceptions of morality which reflect prevailing social and political-economic conditions. Understandings of gambling are determined more by the perspectives and purposes of the analyst than by the inherent nature of the subject. All commentaries on gambling, even the most determinedly ‘objective’, proceed from a particular historically and socially determined point of view.

THEORETICAL AND HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS

A central theme of this chapter is that studies of gambling, while entrenched in specific disciplinary traditions, have reflected the more general historical development of social science theories and the sensitivity of theorists to contemporary social issues. Within the broad intellectual developments of the post-war period emerged what has come to be understood as ‘gambling studies’ (Caldwell et al. 1985; Campbell and Lowman 1989; Eadington 1976, 1982d, 1986b; Eadington and Cornelius 1991; Frey and Eadington 1984; McMillen 1985; Walker 1987). This encompasses a fragmented and diverse body of work which includes behavioural studies of gamblers, the investigation of ‘problem’ gambling, mathematical analysis of different forms of wagering, economic analysis of gambling patterns and studies of gambling policy and the law.
Many of the assumptions underlying different explanations for gambling derive from the particular disciplinary or theoretical perspective of the researcher. Differences in approach and subject matter also stem from the divergent origins of national philosophies and the changing national-cultural contexts of gambling itself. Even so, it is possible to recognise structural correlates and common trends in scholarship related to the changing status of gambling in society. Whenever gambling is being analysed, fundamental questions are raised about the actual and potential relationship between gambling, the state and civil society, both in general and in particular nation states. In American gambling studies, for instance, analysis has shifted since the 1970s from a focus on the dysfunctional and immoral aspects of gambling which prevailed in the prohibition climate of pre-war years (Devereux 1968a; Frey 1984; Rosecrance 1988a:12–52, 58–62; Skolnick 1978:3–34) to a more recent emphasis on economic and legal-administrative factors associated with the smooth operation of a newly legal industry (Aronson and Miller 1980; Eadington 1976, 1982b, 1990, 1991; Dombrink and Thompson 1986; Lehne 1986; Rose 1987; Rosecrance 1988a: 63–7; Skolnick 1978, 1979b; Weinstein and Deitch 1974). The British state has taken a less moralistic but more regulated approach to most forms of public gambling, and the British analytical preoccupation with political and legal processes has been reflected in contributions from public administration, criminology and the history of law (Dixon 1980a, 1983, 1984, 1989; Miers and Dixon 1979; Hood 1972, 1976:169–207; Miers 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1987).
In turn, prevailing assumptions and knowledge about gambling have had important implications for policy outcomes. Either directly or indirectly, public morality and the type of information available about gambling at any specific time have been important factors in the state’s policy approach. The ostensibly neutral data and explanations which have resulted from academic research and government reports have provided normative and often ethnocentric accounts which variously endorse or condemn particular gambling practices and their effects. The understanding of gambling produced by researchers has informed policy decisions about the further expansion of gambling facilities or the type of legislation or regulation that is required.
This chapter will discuss the divergent and changing explanations of gambling, situating different types of gambling analysis within their particular historical-national contexts and underlying philosophies. It will argue that explanations of gambling have been dominated by normative and culturally specific theories of liberal social science. The liberal and individualistic assumptions of these theories pose conceptual and methodological problems which limit their capacity to explain the emergence and nature of modern commercial gambling. When social scientists have investigated gambling, the emphasis in most studies has been on the empirical observation of individual behaviour rather than a broader understanding of the changing gambling phenomenon. A core theme of this critique is that liberal theories fail to recognise that contemporary gambling is not governed primarily by the actions of individuals, but is conditioned by capitalist social relations and political-economic forces, of which individuals are an integral part. Moreover, with an analytical emphasis on individual behaviour and motivations, many analysts have defined gambling in terms of generalised, abstract concepts such as ‘rational behaviour’ and ‘leisure’. Such perspectives make a number of covert assumptions about common, defining characteristics of gambling which do not stand up to historical scrutiny of its diverse forms and locations. Legal gambling shows marked variations in its composition, when and how it is introduced, whose interests it furthers and in its effects. Although often presented in terms of increasing public ‘access’ to gambling, legalised gambling is as oppressive of some activities as it is liberating. The ‘freedom’ to gamble is not universal or evenly distributed. Discriminations are embedded in institutions and routinised in commercial activities and administrative procedures, so that a distinction between legal and illegal gambling is rendered normal.
Similar criticisms can be made regarding the overgeneralised explanations of gambling. Even those analysts who do acknowledge the close relation between gambling, culture and the nation state frequently do not take into account the heterogeneous character of the state and the lack of socio-cultural homogeneity. Analysis of the nature and extent of modern gambling in capitalism requires examination of the profoundly contingent and selective content of government policies and commercial activities.
From this perspective, research questions about the post-war global expansion of legalised gambling should probe the complex social relations lying beneath the surface data of legal gambling, rather than, as in conventional sociology, concentrating on what gambling means for participants (Goffman 1967; Caldwell 1974, 1985a; Rosecrance 1985, 1987), or as in liberal economics and political science, being content to merely identify what contributions gambling has made to economic development or successful government (Alchin 1989; Cabot and Schuetz 1991; Eadington and Hattori 1976; Gruen 1976; Haig 1976; Hood 1972, 1976:169–207; Johnson 1976, 1985; Lehne 1986; Suits 1977, 1979).
It will be argued that conventional theories of gambling have diverted attention from the fact that contemporary gambling, whether legal or illegal, is as much an expression of capital-state relations and political-legal decisions as of individual behaviour. Gambling receives much of its definition from the institutions of state (Parliament, political parties, agencies of administration and law enforcement) and capital (private gambling corporations, marketing agencies) through which it is organised, regulated and experienced. From the vast range of possible ways that gambling could be conducted, state activities give certain forms of gambling an official seal of approval, and suppress, marginalise and erode others. An understanding of the changes and growth of modern gambling therefore must consider the role of the state in determining what types of gambling are available. Furthermore, gambling has become an important component of modern leisure industries, run as a business for profit by both private and public enterprises. The individualism of many liberal approaches to gambling analysis diverts attention from the historically specific system of power in capitalist society which produces and reproduces gambling and structures behaviour in the interests of profit.
In summary, this chapter raises theoretical and empirical issues concerning the relation between gambling practices, policies and theories in different socio-historical contexts. It will examine:

  1. the growth of legal gambling as a specific socio-historical phenomenon, with specific attention to the historical diversity of practices and trends in gambling policies;
  2. the diverse and changing range of theories which have been applied to gambling in its various manifestations.
The chapter proposes that gambling is best explained by investigating the interaction between political, industrial and socio-cultural forms in contemporary capitalism. The discussion is divided into four sections. The first section opens with a critique of negative explanations of gambling which have frequently been made by psychologists, economists and sociologists. Many past and present theorists have perceived gambling in a pejorative sense as a psychological, social and moral problem. This section will consider debates over gambling and social order, particularly the sociological view of gambling as deviant behaviour. Such perspectives on gambling have been compatible with the prevailing policies of constraint and prohibition in the major theoretical nations (Britain, the United States).
The second section will discuss the post-war theoretical shift to a more liberal view which attempts to explain the social persistence and political liberalisation of gambling. The main focus will be to summarise and critically evaluate the most influential post-war contributions to a general theory of gambling. This discussion begins by examining the shift in the focus of gambling analysis from deviance to leisure within liberal social science in the United States, Britain and Australia. While acknowledging the contributions of these studies to gambling policy and understanding, it will be argued that analysis needs to depart from the sociological conventions of associating gambling primarily with the leisure experience of individuals, and of using the concept in a universal sense devoid of politics.
The third section will centre on the relevance of the public choice explanation of gambling policy which has dominated US explanations for the post-war evolution of commercial casinos and lotteries. This raises theoretical and empirical issues of the complicated relation between the contemporary gambling industry and state regulation. Finally, the chapter will conclude by considering critical contributions from within radical criminology and the history of law which explore the ambivalent character of modern forces of gambling control, whether concerned with liberalisation or with regulation. Gambling studies from Britain, Canada and the United States have exposed the dialectical relationship between the state and the private sphere in the production of social order. Their insights into the interactions between politics, law and public morality reveal both the complexity and the ubiquity of legalised gambling.

GAMBLING AND SOCIETY: CONVENTIONAL VIEWS

Many analysts share several core—but problematic—assumptions about relations between gambling and society. With few exceptions, post-war accounts of gambling have been retarded by three interrelated influences on the approach and subject matter of gambling analysis. First, conservative moral forces have exerted subtle but powerful influences over academic inquiry. Historical-theoretical assumptions about relations between morality and legality, work and leisure, production and consumption, politics and economics, the past and the present, have combined to produce a conservative approach to gambling analysis which tends to legitimate the prevailing state of affairs. Second, the post-war dominance of the positivist tradition which assumes the existence of value-free facts has produced an unreflective approach which is blind to the socio-political construction of gambling illegality and legality. Third, most theories and explanations of gambling behaviour have been produced in isolation from histories of gambling politics and social relations. Changes in gambling legalisation are viewed merely as unproblematic sign-posts along the road to modern gambling practices (Blakey and Kurland 1978; Cornell Law School 1977; Cornish 1978). Rarely has contemporary gambling been examined with the objective of providing an account of the socio-historical specificity of policy development or an adequate general explanation of the growing commercialisation of the industry (Dessant 1976; Herman 1976:115). In the absence of a theoretically informed critique of such changes, the narrow focus of gambling studies restricts the extent to which they explain the phenomenon.
Several interrelated criticisms may be made of conventional gambling studies. In general, they

  1. treat gambling as a universal constant, without adequate differentiation between various forms or considering the variable moral and political forces underlying their construction;
  2. reflect liberal ideologies specific to the socio-historical development of capitalism, notably individualism and economic rationality. Changing conceptions of gambling have been linked to prevailing political and cultural norms and to disciplinary concerns for social order;
  3. implicitly or explicitly have seen gambling as a ‘problem’ of social control and administration. Even in Australia, where gambling has been widely accepted, debates about the morality and legality of gambling often emphasise that it has potentially disruptive social tendencies;
  4. adopt an economistic stance which prescribes analytical separation of economic and po...

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