Problem gamblers cost Norwegian society NOK5.1bn (€520.5m), according to a survey undertaken by the National Competence Center for Gambling Research at the University of Bergen.
The survey was carried out on behalf of the Norwegian Gambling Authority (NGA) and is based on calculations assuming there are 55,000 problem gamblers in the country, a figure taken from an estimate in a 2019 population study.
The findings “illustrate that problem gambling is a public health problem, and that the measures we have to protect vulnerable players are absolutely necessary”, according to the director of the NGA, Henrik Nordal.
Researchers themselves concluded that “problem gambling constitutes a significant cost for Norwegian society and emphasises the need for increased investment in research and prevention of gambling problems”.
The researchers also emphasised the uncertainty in several of the cost estimates and said not all relevant costs could be estimated due to lack of data.
The trade group that represents offshore gambling interests in Norway, Norsk Bransjeforening for Onlinespill (NBO), agrees the study shows the need for better regulations in the gaming industry.
However, it said it also reflects how a governmental monopoly can “turn out to be the more harmful model both to the players and to the society in general”, NBO spokesperson Carl Fredrik Stenstrøm told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.
“The prevalence of gambling problems is far higher in Norway than in our neighbouring countries, such as Denmark. Denmark has a different regulatory model than Norway. Norwegian regulators should have gone with a similar model, regulating the gambling industry instead of constantly trying to ban it,” Stenstrøm said.
The massive brunt of the societal cost is borne by an estimated 123,000 family members who lose around NOK1.4bn a year because of the impacts of problem gambling, including divorce and debts, according to the report.
Unemployed people exhibiting problem gambling are estimated to cost society NOK891.8m a year, according to the survey.
Lost labour productivity among people in employment is estimated to cost NOK464.5m.
Physical and mental strain on problem gamblers is estimated to cost society more than NOK500m.
The police force spend close to an estimated NOK28m on gambling-related crime a year, while courts cough up NOK30m and prison care costs NOK20m.
Additionally, the report says there were 51 suicides in Norway in 2019 due to problem gambling and that 470 people required medical support due to suicide attempts.
Currently, state-owned Norsk Tipping holds the exclusive right to offer online casino and betting games in Norway and implements some of the continent’s most robust mandatory player protection tools, such as a NOK5,000 monthly loss limit.
Despite these restrictions, “foreign gaming companies make a lot of money from Norwegian problem gamblers, while the players, relatives and Norwegian society are left with the costs”, Nordal said.
Many gambling companies that operate from abroad give the impression to consumers they are Norway-based despite offering products deemed by the regulator to be high risk, alleges the NGA.
A study to estimate the social costs of gambling harm in Italy, funded by the Italian Federation of Workers of the Addiction Departments and Services (FeDerSerD), found the annual cost is more than €2.3bn.
This reflects “a substantial economic burden to society. However, the costs are a substantial underestimate, as they are limited to those of a public nature and do not take into consideration those costs borne by moderate and low-risk gamblers, as well as affected others,” according to the study.
The UK government was urged to treat harmful gambling as a public health issue, after a Department of Health report estimated the cost to English society to be in excess of £1.27bn a year.
Half of the estimated economic burden is a direct cost to the government, which is “likely to be underestimated due to a lack of available evidence”, according to Public Health England’s evidence review of gambling-related harms.
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research is also undertaking a project to estimate the costs and benefits of gambling, with a focus on gambling-related harms for individuals, communities and wider society, to contribute to the evidence base of the ongoing review of the 2005 Gambling Act.
The project is scheduled to be completed by early summer.