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The UK National Lottery and charitable gambling

Ottaway, Jim (2006) The UK National Lottery and charitable gambling. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Sociological studies of the lottery have largely underplayed both the rich history of lotteries in the UK and the richness of meaning that it bears today for its players. They prefer, instead, to limit themselves to issues of pathological and deviant gambling, and to issues of class and regressive taxation. Historically, the growth to maturity in the eighteenth century of UK state lotteries was co-extensive with the establishment and institutionalization of rational capitalism. Their banning in 1826 reflected the separation of legitimate financial speculation from gambling. Sociological theories of gambling have found in it a similar tense affinity with the values of rational capitalism. Gambling is largely conceived, in one way or another, as a safety-valve allowing release from an irresolvable tension in capitalism between prudence and risk-taking. The current UK National Lottery, however, creates diffiulties for these theories. In this thesis I show that the ‘invisibility’ of the lottery – its privatization and its peculiar embeddedness in everyday life – renders problematic a central assumption of theories of gambling: that the release afforded is derived from its providing an exciting focus of economic irrationality. The charitable aspect of the Lottery seems to be in contrast to the Lottery as gambling because the altruistic impulse seems to be fundamentally opposed to the acquisitive spirit of gambling. I show how the Lottery is, by its nature and by its use, able to arbitrate between these apparently contradictory pulls. Thus, in the case of the Lottery, one may add to Devereux’s list of ways in which gambling is able to serve as a mediator between irreconcilable value strains in capitalism a capacity to offer either a release or, indeed, a rapprochement between those values. The contribution of the thesis is three-fold: a critical theoretical appraisal and development of theories of gambling, new empirical data (31 unstructured in-depth interviews) in an under-researched field, and an historical analysis of the relationship between lotteries and aspects of the development of capitalism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2006 Jim Ottaway
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Dodd, Nigel

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