Treat YouGov’s recent gambling poll results with caution

Research undertaken by YouGov, the findings of which were published on 17 May 2019, has attracted media attention, resulting in headlines such as:

one of which quotes outgoing Sky Bet executive chairman, Richard Flint, as saying that the YouGov poll results are unsurprising but not reflective of the “reality on the ground”.

YouGov itself has chosen to entitle its own article on the research findings as “Most gamblers support new safeguards”. That article can be downloaded below but its basic findings are set out as follows:

New gambling safeguards such as limiting maximum stakes and the speed at which bets can be placed have been proposed to provide more protection for online gamblers. The current 2005 Gaming Act currently only protects problem gamblers offline, in bricks and mortar betting shops.

New YouGov research shows that almost three quarters (74%) of those who have placed a bet online or via a mobile device in the last year support these proposed safeguards, with a third of these strongly supporting the proposition (33%). Only a fifth oppose the idea (19%).

On the 1st April 2019, the maximum bet available at fixed-odds betting terminals was decreased from £100 to £2, and stricter identity and age checks for online gambling are due to come into effect in May. More than eight in ten (85%) of gamblers support these changes, with over half strongly supporting them (58%).

Currently, seven in ten (71%) online gamblers think companies aren’t serious about helping people to gamble responsibly.

However, despite the majority of gamblers supporting the introduction of stricter safeguards, only 8% think the main responsibly to stop customers placing bets they can’t afford lies with the government. Over half (51%) think this lies with the customer themselves, and a third with the betting companies (34%).

Gambling is a divisive subject, and there are occasional calls for the minimum legal age to be raised from 18 to protect those most vulnerable. Three quarters (75%) of regular gamblers think the minimum age should remain at its current level, while one fifth (21%) support an increase.

Many fear that gamblers can develop addictions much more easily when gambling online – 6% of those who regularly gamble online have made a bet they couldn’t afford within the last week, and one in ten (10%) have worried that they may be addicted to gambling at some point.

Despite this, only 20% of gamblers think gambling is the worst vice a person can have, with the majority choosing instead smoking (58%) and 12% pointing to drinking.

In our view, the findings (and YouGov‘s above-mentioned article commenting on those findings) should be treated with a large dose of caution. Some of our reasoning is as follows:

  1. YouGov describes its survey as having been conducted on “online UK gamblers”. It defines this phrase as meaning those who have “placed a bet at an online bookmaker or via mobile”. It is unclear from this whether its survey was confined merely to those who have bet online, with the consequence that it excludes those who have otherwise gambled online (including by way of gaming with an online casino), although use of the word “bet” where it appeared in questions posed by YouGov implies that the survey was undertaken solely of those who have bet online (whether by way of a mobile device or otherwise);
  2. If that was the case, the question concerning the recent change of maximum stakes on FOBTs will not have been posed to any users or former users of FOBTs, but will instead have been posed solely to those who had within the last 12 months bet online;
  3. The detailed research findings (accessible here and downloadable below) are broken down by YouGov into the following different categories, namely gender & age, social grade & region, government region, working status, marital status, children in household & parent/guardian and social media/messaging service. However, with no indication given that the total 1,1013 persons polled were weighted in a manner that would have ensured that they were representative of the UK population as a whole in terms of gender, age, social class grading and geographical location, room for distortion of the resultant statistics, when expressed on an overall national basis, clearly exists;
  4. In addition, the manner in which some of the questions were posed by YouGov will arguably have heavily influenced the responses given, including for example the following:
    1. The question “If you had to choose, which ONE, do you think is the worst vice that a person can have?” was prefaced with an explanatory comment that is likely to have led to a material number of respondents having implicitly accepted YouGov‘s proposition that gambling constitutes a “generally considered immoral and/or taboo” activity;
    2. Addition of the words “if at all” in the question “Thinking in general about gambling companies in the UK… How serious, if at all, do you think gambling companies are when they say they want people to gamble responsibly?” has arguably unfairly slanted the question in such a manner that some respondents will have been led into adopting a negative viewpoint before they even answered the question, something that could have been avoided by just omitting those three words from the question;
    3. YouGov‘s following comment “Politicians have proposed an introduction of limits to spend, stakes and speed of online bets to prevent customers placing large amounts on each bet and in rapid succession. This would be in addition to the current set stakes and maximum prizes for gambling machines in physical premises” prefaced the question “to what extent, if at all, would you support or oppose these proposed new safeguards”. In so doing, it wrongly implied that online gambling customers cannot already impose their own financial limits (this being a requirement of the Gambling Commission’s Remote Technical Standards – see RTS12) with the consequence that those responding will have been misled into believing that such an existing safeguard does not already exist. This will have served to wholly undermine the reported finding in response to the above question;
  5. Underlining what appears to have been a lack of complete understanding by YouGov of the applicable regulatory requirements, the statement “the current 2005 Gaming Act currently only protects problem gamblers offline, in bricks and mortar betting shops” in YouGov’s above-mentioned article is plainly and fundamentally incorrect.




Download article PDF: YouGov Survey detailed results