Research Note: Bingo and Feminist Political Economy
Keywords:bingo, volunteer labour, voluntarism, charity, political economy
AbstractI am currently conducting a multi-country comparative research project on bingo regulation in both commercial and charitable contexts. Charitable gaming is remarkably under-studied, even though in many jurisdictions it is the most widespread form of legalized gambling. In the project overall I argue that it not only provides a distinctive lens through which to theorize gambling liberalization and political economy, but it is also key to exploring (and critiquing) the increasing emphasis on voluntarism in reconstituted welfare states. In this paper specifically I explore how volutneers in charitable bingo halls are impacted by bingo revitalization efforts undertaken in Ontario and Alberta (Canada). I focus on how charities and government officials try to manage the tension between regulating and incentivizing the unpaid workers whose labour sustains the game. I explore two efforts undertaken to resolve this tension, via a volunteer credit scheme (in Alberta), and a scheme to professionalize the volunteer role (in Ontario). In both cases, efforts to revitalize charitable bingo have involved increased scrutiny of volunteers, alongside initiatives designed to maximize the value of volunteer labour to charities and provincial governments. These initiatives have failed to protect people who need charitable services from being coerced into working for free. Both initiatives have also reduced volunteer autonomy, and increased the class distance between bingo volunteers and players. I conclude with some lessons that bingo might hold for those interested in voluntarism and the feminist political economy of charitable labour.
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