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UK Problem Gambling Rate Stable But Data Concerns Remain

October 26, 2022
​​​​​​​The latest Gambling Commission data reports that the UK problem gambling rate has remained stable at 0.3 percent, but academics are increasingly concerned about the methodology and standardisation of recording gambling harm rates.

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The latest Gambling Commission data reports that the UK problem gambling rate has remained stable at 0.3 percent, but academics are increasingly concerned about the methodology and standardisation of recording gambling harm rates.

The moderate-risk and low-risk rates are also recorded as stable at 1.1 percent and 1.8 percent, according to the regulator’s latest quarterly statistics on participation and problem gambling for the year ending September 2022.

A spokesperson for trade group the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) said it is “encouraged by the latest figures”, adding that the “data shows the rate of problem gambling among adults in the UK remains low by international standards at 0.3 percent, down from 0.4 percent the year previous”.

When asked by VIXIO how these figures could affect the much-anticipated Gambling Act review white paper, the BGC said it remains “strongly supportive” of the paper as an opportunity to “raise standards and promote safer gambling”.

However, it added that “the government must not drive gamblers towards the growing unsafe, unregulated black market online, where billions of pounds are being staked”.

The latest quarterly update provided by the regulator also found participation levels are similarly stable year-on-year at 44 percent.

Online gambling participation increased to 27 percent, continuing an upward trend, while land-based gambling remained at 27 percent, below COVID-19 pandemic levels.

The figures were published as the Gambling Commission and other regulators’ methodologies for collecting prevalence and problem gambling rate data have come under fire from academics and public health experts.

The latest set of data is based on the regulator’s quarterly telephone calls to a nationally representative sample of 4,018 adults aged 16 and over.

Just last week, Dr Mark Griffiths, professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University, called for more of a focus on behavioural data gathered by online operators as opposed to “unreliable” telephone survey responses, during a European Safer Gambling Week webinar.

On the same panel, Dr Margaret Carran, an associate professor and associate dean at City, University of London, also questioned the ability to make cross-jurisdictional comparisons of problem gambling rates, as her research has found a “huge variation” of methodologies used to collect the data.

“How can regulations help to prevent people from requiring treatment without consistency in data? It is very difficult to justify or criticise any of the current regulations. Consistency of measuring problem gambling rates across long time periods of time is key to getting a better understanding,” Carran said.

Major questions were also raised earlier this year when a new paper published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction suggested the short-form nature of the commission’s telephone survey may be disguising the true extent of problem gambling.

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.

The Gambling Commission is currently updating its approach to collecting participation and prevalence data and recently received seven recommendations from external experts reviewing its progress.

An external review of the regulator’s pilot data suggested that its ongoing process to develop more suitable questions concluded that the current piloted questions were “clear and unambiguous”.

The recommendations included introducing a broader range of harm issues in question and changing scaled response options to have more equally spaced responses.

The Gambling Commission is now developing its approach to analysing the data and engaging with stakeholders on how it communicates headline statistics and findings, it said.

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