New Research Casts Doubt On 'Stable' UK Problem Gambling Figures

July 27, 2022
The latest Gambling Commission data has set the UK problem gambling rate at a stable 0.2 percent, but a new academic study backs claims the true rate is more than ten times higher.


The latest Gambling Commission data has set the UK problem gambling rate at a stable 0.2 percent, but a new academic study backs claims the true rate is more than ten times higher.

New results from the commission’s quarterly telephone survey were released on Tuesday (July 26), recording a “statistically stable” 0.2 percent rate of problem gambling among the population aged 16 years and above, through June 2022.

People at moderate risk of gambling harm made up 1 percent of those surveyed, while 1.5 percent were considered low risk. All three rates match up with those recorded a year ago.

But a new paper published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction this week suggests the short-form nature of the commission’s telephone survey may be disguising the true extent of the problem.

Researchers contrasted results from questionnaires using the full nine-question Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) test and the three-question version used by the regulator.

The report’s authors cited other research using the longer form version that recorded a 2.8 percent rate of problem gambling in the UK. They then compared cohorts of gamblers interrogated using both the long and short versions of the PGSI index and found similar differences in the rates.

Online sports bettors surveyed using the full test recorded a problem gambling rate of 7.2 percent, compared with 4.7 percent for the three-question version. Online roulette players had rates of 10.5 and 8.7 percent for the long and short versions respectively.

“On this specific factor, the 2.8 percent figure is the more reliable of the two, since it is based on the gold standard scale,” the researchers concluded.

“This example adds to the previous critical perspectives on prevalence surveys, and provides further justification for moves to other ways of measuring gambling-related harm,” they said.

The 2.8 percent rate emerged in March of this year via YouGov research commissioned by GambleAware.

It sparked national media coverage, as well as concern among campaigners that the commission is underplaying the scale of gambling harm in the UK, just as the regulator provides key advice to the government amid its ongoing review of the UK Gambling Act.

The long wait for a white paper outlining the government’s plans looks set to continue until at least the appointment of a new Prime Minister in September, after it failed to emerge before parliament entered recess on July 21.

In March, the Gambling Commission noted a difference in “methodology” between its approach and YouGov’s research, but said that it was piloting new methods of collecting data.

In the research paper released this week, the authors also noted that the telephone survey currently preferred by the commission may produce lower problem gambling rates than those conducted online and that calls to mobiles produced higher scores than calls to landlines.

Trade group the Betting and Gaming Council, meanwhile, has rejected the 2.8 percent figure, saying it “does not recognise” the YouGov results.

It has continued to use the 0.2 percent figure in its comms, celebrating in March that rates had apparently fallen from 0.4 percent year-on-year, although the Gambling Commission again characterised this drop as “statistically stable”.

Other findings from the commission’s June survey include that overall participation rates in gambling are still below those recorded before the pandemic, particularly for land-based gambling.

However, it said the latest data showed that people were starting to return to bingo halls, horse races and casinos, but still in lower numbers than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online gambling participation remained stable compared with the previous year, “although the long-term trend continues to show steady growth, like many other sectors”, the regulator said.

UK Gambling Participation Year End June 2022

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