The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007 was published by the U.K. Gambling Commission in September, revealing to the surprise of the British media that problem gambling has not increased since 1999.
The survey quizzed more than 9,000 people between September 2006 and March 2007. The commission admits that it had expected to see a rise in the number of problem gamblers due to Internet betting, but that the opposite was in fact the case.
Only a small proportion of people engaged in the new forms of gambling available in Great Britain:
• Of the total population 4 percent had used the internet for betting and 3 percent for gaming (of gamblers only this represented 6 percent and 4 percent respectively).
• 6 percent of the general population gambled on the internet and this equates to over 3m people.
• 54 percent of online bettors bet less than once a month, compared to 50 percent of online gamers over the same period.
• 11 percent of online bettors bet more than 2 days a week, compared to 21 percent of online gamers.
• 36 percent of all gamblers are involved in at least three categories of gambling.
We were not surprised by the numbers, Simon Holliday, a partner with Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, said. Although we do not track problem gambling numbers, we have always viewed the British gambler as having a healthy view and exposure to gambling.
The study, conducted by the National Center for Social Research (NCSR), measured participation in gambling, assessed the level of problem gambling and gauged the public’s attitude toward gambling.
Despite the availability and popularity of a range of new gambling products, the study found that problem gamblers comprised between 0.5 percent (236,000) and 0.6 percent (284,000) of the British adult population. The figures were extrapolated from answers given by the study’s 9,003 respondents.
When looking at the types of gambling activities and which may be more addictive than others, the breakdown was as such:
Activity % of problem gamblers # of gamblers # of problem gamblers
Spread betting 14.7 53 8
Betting exchanges 9.8 74 7
Online gaming 7.4 191 14
Online betting 6.0 303 18
# of gamblers and problem gamblers in hundreds of thousands
Media projections ahead of the study held that between 600,000 and 800,000 adults would be documented problem gamblers, which, invariably, would have raised concern over the direction of the country’s already liberal gaming policy.
There is now nothing to suggest that the new regime we have in place is at all inappropriate, but we still need to monitor the effects closely, Gambling Commission Chairman Peter Dean told a press conference in London.
We remain concerned that there are still over a quarter of a million adults who are problem gamblers, Dean said. 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.
According to the study, the highest prevalence of problem gambling was found among respondents who participated in spread betting (14.7 percent), fixed odds betting terminals or FOBTs (11.2 percent) and betting exchanges (9.8 percent).
The results perhaps place spread bettors (regulated by the Financial Services Authority rather than the Gambling Commission), FOBTs and the exchanges under the spotlight, Holliday said. These are key areas where there could be more regulation in the not-so-distant future.
Along this line, Dean said that the commission is planning to conduct more specific research into the relationship between problem gambling behavior and individual games. He added that the current study, which the NCSR called overdue, would be repeated between 2009 and 2010 to gauge the efficacy of the Gambling Act in relation to problem gambling.
U.K. problem gambling organization, GamCare, stated that they were delighted to see that the combined efforts of organizations like theirs and the gaming industry, with its heightened commitment to the practices of social responsibility, has led to no increase in the number of problem gamblers in the UK.
As expected, reactions across the industry were positive.
Even in the United States, the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative (SSIGI) made apt use of the findings in a prepared statement titled Regulated Internet Gambling Does Not Lead to Increase in Problem Gambling. It remains to be seen how much weight, if any, the numbers will carry among U.S. legislators already slow in backing Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank’s Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act.
Some observers, of course, offered a different viewpoint.
Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling sudies at Nottingham Trent University, told the Daily Mail, Problems are associated with the new forms of gambling, and those forms are expected to grow. It’s not just the internet. We will see more gambling through mobile phones and interactive television.
Professor Jim Orford, of the University of Birmingham, said there is “enormous scope” for increase in gambling, particularly online betting, leading to higher addiction rates.
A Downing Street spokesman said, While the report shows that problem gambling still affects only a small minority, it does remain a serious issue and has to be addressed.