So what is the true level of gambling harms in Great Britain?

Based on fieldwork carried out between 18 November and 14 December 2021, GambleAware has today (23 March 2022) published new research findings, conducted on its behalf by YouGov, estimating that 2.8% of adults in Great Britain (i.e. 1.4 million people) are experiencing gambling harms.

This contrasts with the Gambling Commission’s current assessment of problem gambling rates (most recently confirmed in February 2022) for the year to December 2021, based on quarterly telephone surveys:

In year to Dec 2021, the overall problem gambling rate is statistically stable at 0.3%, compared to year to Dec 2020. The moderate risk and low risk rates are also statistically stable at 0.8% and 1.9% respectively. This stability in 2021 follows previous significant decreases in the problem gambling and at risk rates as described in the Year to Sept 2021 release.

GambleAware explains that rates of prevalence of gambling-related harms vary based on the survey methodology. In its press release published today, it states:

In order to better understand these differences, GambleAware commissioned an independent review of different survey methodologies by Prof. Patrick Sturgis. Online surveys often lead to higher estimates of prevalence compared to face-to-face or telephone surveys. Therefore the figures in this document may be upper bounds on the ‘true’ rate of prevalence of gambling harms, at least relative to other survey methods (which could also be underestimated).  However, all survey methodologies involve different biases, so there is no ‘true’ or ‘gold standard’ estimate of the number of people experiencing gambling harms.

It adds that:

The Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) is the most common measure and definition of gambling harms. A PGSI score of 8+ refers to problem gambling or “gambling with negative consequences and a possible loss of control”. Our definition of “people experiencing gambling harms” is based on the ‘problem gambling’ definition (PGSI 8+).

Details of the findings are set out in YouGov’s publication for GambleAware entitled ‘Annual GB Treatment and Support Survey 2021’ (that you can download below).

The Guardian has been quick to report on the findings, the title of its article today – ‘Gambling addiction could be nine times higher than industry claims‘ – succinctly summing up the message conveyed to its readers following on from the following quote attributed to ‘a spokesperson for the Betting & Gaming Council’:

We do not recognise these figures which are not supported by the Gambling Commission’s most recent research which showed rates of problem gambling have been falling, according to the regulator at 0.3% – down from 0.6% 18 months ago. That’s equivalent to a drop of 340,000 problem gamblers down to 170,000 – not 1.4 million suggested by GambleAware.”

Come what may, it seems inevitable that these latest statistics will ignite yet further debate on the true level of gambling harms in Great Britain. Another highly relevant factor is a pilot online survey that is likely to change the research methodology that the Gambling Commission uses to collect its gambling participation and problem gambling prevalence statistics, a subject on which David Clifton commented as follows in January this year:

A pilot online survey (currently running until March 2022) could serve to undermine recent much lauded statistics showing annual reductions (a) from 0.6% to 0.3% in the proportion of the UK population suffering from problem gambling and (b) from 1.2% to 0.7% in terms of those classified as at moderate risk of gambling harm. The Commission says its pilot is not aimed towards development of a headline score or scale of gambling-related harms, and nor is it designed to measure the cost of gambling harms to society. Instead, it is intended to provide improved quality data enabling the Commission to better measure and understand gambling harms and the wide impact they have. Nevertheless, I forecast this will have a major effect on future Gambling Commission policy, underlining the importance of industry collaboration in sharing knowledge and learnings in a concerted effort to reduce harmful gambling behaviour even further in 2022.

Today’s research findings announced by GambleAware coincide with its launch of a campaign to raise awareness of treatment and support available through the National Gambling Treatment Service (NGTS), in relation to which it comments:

Working in partnership with the NHS and other organisations, the NGTS provides free, confidential support through telephone, website, face to face, group and residential therapy – with services shown to help 92% of those who completed treatment to improve their condition. Last year alone, the NGTS helped roughly 8,500 people across the country, however, GambleAware’s figures show that for every person who gets NGTS support each year, there are nearly 160 others who could benefit but don’t get the help they need.

The 160 figure is calculated by dividing the number of adults experiencing gambling harms (1,440,000) by the number of adults who actually receive NGTS support per year (8,490 in 2020/21). The result is 169.6. This means that the number of people currently requiring NGTS support is over 160 times higher than the number of people who receive NGTS support each year, or that for each person receiving support, more than 160 others do not. This calculation assumes that all of the 1,440,000 adults need NGTS support; if this is not true then the figure will be an overestimate. However, it also assumes that all the individuals actually accessing NGTS support are drawn from the wider population of 1,440,000 adults experiencing harms; if that is not true then the result is an underestimate.