Important online gambling research findings likely to heavily influence gambling reform debate

GambleAware has today (12 March 2021) published new interim findings from research conducted between July 2018 and June 2019 by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) – in collaboration with Professor David Forrest and Professor Ian McHale (University of Liverpool).

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Commissioned to improve understanding of the online gambling market, the research looked at the use of active ‘gaming’ and betting accounts to establish details of the gambling habits of close to 140,000 online gambling account holders in Great Britain.

The results (key findings in relation to which are set out below) show that a large majority of active online gambling accounts in the UK spent relatively low amounts and were used infrequently throughout the year, while a small proportion of accounts were used extensively and generated substantial losses. As a result, a small proportion of accounts made up a large proportion of gross gambling yield (GGY) – the amount retained by operators from customer stakes after the payment of winnings but before the deduction of the costs of the operation.

Arising from this, the standout finding is that the 5% of online accounts with the highest losses generated a minimum of 70% of Gross Gambling Yield (GGY) in each of betting, virtual casinos, live casinos, and slots. Even though player protection measures (including introduction of the High Value Customers regime with effect from 31 October 2020) have very considerably improved since the NatCen research was undertaken (between July 2018 and June 2019), this finding, in particular, will be seized upon by those campaigning for safer gambling restrictions to be imposed by the UK Government as part of its review of the Gambling Act 2005.


Research questions were:

  • What are the basic patterns of play within online gambling?
  • How do these patterns of play vary for different types of people?
  • How do patterns of play vary among different products and characteristics?
  • What types of behaviours are associated with problem or at-risk gambling, for example use of credit cards, reverse withdrawals etc?

Seven major online operators agreed to supply data to be used in the analysis. It was decided to sample cases from each operator and cases were selected at random, which means the results can be generalised to all participating operators.

Five of the seven operators were focused on betting. It is estimated that operators included in the study capture more than 85% of the online betting market in Great Britain and more than 37% of the gaming market.

Each operator was requested to provide an anonymised list of all its accounts where the account’s registered address was in Great Britain and there had been at least one transaction, in which money had been gambled, between 1st July 2018 and 30th June 2019. From the full list of accounts, 20,000 accounts per operator were sampled, and full transactional data for the time period was requested and supplied to the researchers for analysis. The final aggregated dataset comprised one year’s gambling activity data for 139,152 accounts

Key findings

Key findings from the interim research are as follows:

  • 85% of accounts used for betting spent less than £200 on betting over the year between July 2018 and June 2019, while 90% of ‘gaming’ accounts had either an overall win or loss of less than £500 for the same period.
  • 0.7% of accounts used for betting (representing approximately 60,000 accounts among participating operators) and 1.2% of accounts used for gaming (representing approximately 47,000 accounts among participating operators) lost £5,000 or more over the course of the year.
  • The 5% of online accounts with the highest losses generated a minimum of 70% of Gross Gambling Yield (GGY) in each of betting, virtual casinos, live casinos, and slots.
  • Pre-match football, in-play football and horseracing accounted for most spending from betting, while slots and casino games accounted for most spending from ‘gaming’.
  • Among women, gaming was more popular than betting, with 26% of GGY for ‘gaming’ coming from women compared to 6% for betting.
  • 4% of accounts used for ‘gaming’ (representing an estimated 164,000 accounts among participating operators) lost more than £500 in a single session during the year.
  • Late night ‘gaming’ was associated with greater spending intensity, particularly for live and virtual casino games.
  • The online betting sector derives an estimated 94% of its GGY from men, who held 78% of betting accounts.
  • Among accounts which spent £5,000 or more over the year, over 95% were held by men, typically in their 40s.
  • Participation in online gambling was higher in more deprived areas than less deprived areas, but people living in more and less deprived areas spent on average similar amounts throughout the year.

Researchers also looked at the use of safer gambling tools. Around 4% received contact from an operator for the purpose of ‘social responsibility’, with the vast majority (84%) of those contacts being made by email.

Of the accounts which lost in excess of £2,000 during the year, around a third (36%) had received a ‘social responsibility’ contact during the year, while 0.84% received a phone call from an operator.

Among safer gambling tools, deposit limits were most widely used by account holders. Around a fifth (21.5%) set deposit limits, whereas, self-exclusion was applied to 2.3% of accounts.

Next steps

Commenting on the research, Dr Sokratis Dinos from NatCen said:

This research was able to analyse and assess an unprecedented source of information on how people in Great Britain gamble and opens up numerous opportunities to further understand people’s gambling habits. These interim findings are just the first stage and future research will provide a greater opportunity to understand the risk factors associated with gambling behaviour.

A second stage of research is planned for this Summer, in which a sample of account holders will be contacted and invited to take part in a survey to better understand the wider context of their gambling behaviour.

Reaction from the BGC

iGB has reported the reaction to this interim report by the Betting and Gaming Council, quoting a spokesperson as saying that “while the data was important, it reflected a time before the BGC was created in 2019”, as a result of which “the British gambling industry had improved its player safety measures significantly since the dates measured”, adding:

The data in this report was collected before the BGC came into being and so does not take account of the work we have done to raise standards. This includes the whistle-to-whistle ban on TV betting commercials during live sport before the 9pm watershed, ensuring 20 per cent of all broadcast advertising is now safer gambling messages, significantly increasing funding for research, education and treatment, implementing a credit card ban (excluding National Lottery) and introducing a new games design code of conduct, which has led to the slowing down of spin speeds and the banning of several gaming features.

This report acknowledges that technology now enables betting companies to see where customers are starting to display markers of harm, meaning those at risk are now subject to enhanced checks and interventions. It also shows that a large number of customers are taking advantage of safer gambling tools like setting deposit limits, which we encourage.

None of these new changes apply to the unsafe, unregulated and growing online black market online, but the BGC will use the Government’s review of gambling to identify further best practice and changes going forward to ensure our work on promoting safer gambling continues.