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Britain's Gambling Prevalence Survey reveals problem gambling has not risen in eight years

In the U.K., a study published in September into the prevalence of gambling has shown that the percentage of the population suffering from problem gambling has remained roughly the same as eight years ago, the last time an examination was conducted.

Conducted by the National Centre for Social Research at the request of the Gambling Commission, the regulatory body for casinos, bingo clubs and gaming machines, the Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007 was the first major study of attitudes on and the prevalence of gambling in Great Britain since 1999. It questioned 9,003 people between September 2006 and March 2007 about 17 types of gambling, from scratch cards to casinos, and looked at attitudes toward gambling, the popularity of different types of gambling and the prevalence of problem gambling.

The survey found that about 0.6 percent of the U.K. gambling population, or roughly 250,000 people, could be considered problem gamblers, which is worse than the rate of Norway but similar to that of Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. In addition, this percentage was lower than that of the United States, Australia, South Africa, Singapore or Hong Kong.

The findings of the survey came as a surprise to many in the industry, including Sir Peter Dean, chairman of the Gambling Commission, who stated that, while 99 percent of people who gambled did so harmlessly, he was relieved at just how low the figure was. A rise was expected due to the availability of new forms of gaming, such as fixed-odds betting terminals in betting shops and online gambling, that have appeared since the previous study.

“There is a significant number of people who do gamble online,” said Dean. “We’ve been tracking those, but the key message is that, overall, there has been surprisingly little change either in the number of gambling participants or the number of problem gamblers since 1999.

“We remain concerned that there are still over a quarter of a million adults who are problem gamblers, and the challenge for us and for the industry is to tackle this through the new licensing regime that has been put in place from September 1.British-based gambling operators must now comply with strict and detailed social responsibility obligations, and we will monitor how these requirements are met.”

Online Interests – The survey revealed that internet and other new forms of gambling have not led to an increase in the total numbers of people with gambling problems. In fact, it showed that, due to a drop in National Lottery sales, the total number of people gambling fell from 72 percent in 1999 to 68 percent today. In addition, the study found that the lottery, still by far the most popular form of gambling, saw its percentage of the population taking part drop from 65 percent for the previous study to 57 percent today.

The survey-set to become a regular occurrence, with the next scheduled for 2010-found that gambling is not dead despite the decrease in total numbers of people gambling. The total numbers of people participating in all other types of gambling, excluding the lottery, was up by 2 percent from the 1999 level of 46 percent. However, only 6 percent of those questioned had gambled online, while 3 percent had used fixed-odds betting terminals and 4 percent gambled in a casino.

“We are delighted that the Prevalence Survey demonstrated no increase in problem gambling,” said Nicola Crewe-Read, director of communications at GamCare, a U.K. charity providing support, advice and counseling to people affected by gambling problems.

“GamCare believes that this outcome is undoubtedly due to the concerted efforts of the gambling industry to protect its customers from getting into difficulty as a result of their gambling activities. However, the survey did identify in excess of a quarter of a million people with a gambling problem.”

Stable Problem – While revealing that a sizeable minority still suffers from problems associated with gambling, the revelation that these numbers have not risen in eight years has given fresh impetus to proponents of Manchester’s “super-casino” proposal, which was put on indefinite hold by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown soon after he took office in June. The government stated that the report’s findings were not grounds for complacency, and that it remained focused on protecting children and vulnerable people.

“While the survey shows that problem gambling still only affects a small minority of people, it does remain a serious issue and something that has to be addressed,” read a statement issued by the prime minister’s office.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has stated that it will review the funding of gambling research, treatment and public education (something currently supported on a voluntary basis by the gambling industry) and will look again at plans for a super-casino to regenerate run-down areas.

“The prime minister said in July that the issue relating to a super-casino is whether or not this is the best way of meeting our regeneration objectives, and he is obviously skeptical about that,” read the prime minister’s statement.

However, those opposed to gambling-notably church groups and opposition political parties-were not pleased, and stated that more work needs to be done to decrease the number of those dealing with problem gambling even more.

“This report is two years too late,” said Jeremy Hunt, a conservative member of Parliament and the Shadow Culture secretary.

“All the gambling legislation has now passed through Parliament with little prospect of serious amendment. The horse has well and truly bolted from the gambling stables.”

“While we are relieved that the number of problem gamblers has not risen, there are still far too many,” added Anthea Cox, coordinating secretary for the Methodist Church.

“We want the next study in three years’ time to show a fall in the number of problem gamblers. We remain concerned about the increase in online gambling and betting. The study clearly shows that these are high risk for problem gambling.”

Professor Peter Collins, director of the Centre for the Study of Gambling, stated that he too would like to see the number of problem gamblers a good deal lower but said that measuring was an inexact science.

“There are very severe problem gamblers whose tragic situation is quite as grave as any other addiction, but there are people with much less serious problems,” Collins said.

  Proactive Response – While the vast majority in the U.K.’s casino industry stated they were pleased with the results of the survey, all pledged to carry on efforts at reducing problem gambling while continuing to offer a safe and enjoyable pastime for millions of players.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the Prevalence Study and encouraged that it found problem gambling has not increased,” said Andrew Herd, executive director of Aspers Group, one of Britain’s largest casino operators.

“The results confirmed our belief that the casino industry is not a major contributor to problem gambling. These results are fairly much in line with what we expected, as our industry is well-regulated and casino companies put considerable resources into operating in a socially responsible manner.

“However, this is not a time to be complacent, as this needs to remain the case, if not improve further. We take our responsibility toward the local communities in which we operate very seriously.”

Aspers founded Community Action For Responsible Gaming, a working partnership between local police, community and religious groups in Cardiff supported by GamCare. Designed to facilitate discussion, increase knowledge and reduce the risk of problem gambling, the group has a goal of reducing gambling problems in the next survey.

“Operators need to provide support for problem gamblers, and the approach of the Aspers over the last few years has helped reduce incidents of problem gambling,” said Herd. “We continue to work with CARG to promote this attitude.

“Aspers’ social responsibility programs are well-documented and regarded as some of the world’s best. Our commitment to socially responsible gaming is evident through our casinos, Aspers At The Gate in Newcastle and the recently opened casino in Swansea.”

“The Responsibility In Gaming Trust wants to learn from the very interesting experiment in working with the community that is being undertaken by Aspers via CARG,” said Malcolm Bruce, director general of RIGT.

The survey found that newer forms of gambling such as spread betting and fixed-odds betting terminals had the most problem gamblers. Spread betting had the highest number of problem gamblers at 14.7 percent followed by fixed-odds betting terminals at 11.2 percent and betting exchanges at 9.8 percent. It also stated that 6 percent of the population had gambled online with men more likely to gamble than women.

The government has not been shy at stating that, should problem gambling increase at the next study, it would look at tightening controls on the gambling industry. However, the industry maintains that it is committed to reducing problem gambling and working in partnership to see that this happens.

“Due to the provisions of the Gambling Act 2005 and the combined efforts of operators to ensure that individuals may gain access to the help, advice and treatment services available, GamCare fervently hopes that the incidence of problem gambling will not increase,” said Crewe-Read.

“In the meantime, GamCare will continue to work with the industry to ensure that any individual who needs help is able to access it, and to work with key front-line agencies in the consumer health and advice space to raise the awareness of GamCare and our services nationwide.”