GambleAware publishes new prevalence methodology

Gambling has been a form of entertainment for centuries, but it’s only been the last few years that attention to responsible gambling has been so great. In the UK, much of that can be attributed to the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC), which licenses online betting sites and live gambling venues.

As well as monitoring fair play, and customer data and financial security, the UKGC is extremely strict on responsible gambling. It’s why any betting advert that you see online or on television carries a responsible gaming message within it. Look at the bottom of any licensed site in the UK, and you’ll see a link to GambleAware, the organisation that raises awareness about problem gambling, hopefully, to prevent some players from falling down that hole.

Now, GambleAware has published the results of a study it commissioned to clarify the best practice to measure the prevalence of gambling harms across the UK.

Authored by respected Professor Patrick Sturgis and Professor Jouni Kuha of the London School of Economics, the report set about identifying how different survey types affected the accuracy of exactly how much gambling harm the nation suffers. The results will also be of interest in the US, where more states are legalising online gambling, meaning the public has access to online casino and sports betting platforms, with many of those sites found on

The reasoning behind the research is significant because if gambling harm has been greatly underestimated, then the UKGC, and other regulatory bodies globally, would need to impose stricter measures on gambling operators to protect their players better. On the flip side, if the problems were exaggerated, perhaps additional responsible gaming messaging or tightening of laws surrounding gambling advertising might be unnecessary.

It seems the former was more likely since a YouGov study in 2019 suggested there were higher rates of gambling harm in the UK than had been previously thought. But was even that study accurate?

Huge discrepancies in results

The review team looked at eight key surveys into gambling harm, and the issue they were tasked with became apparent immediately. Across the eight surveys, the per cent of UK adults perceived to be in the “problem gambling” bracket varied from just 0.7% to a more worrying 2.4% of all adults.

A primary cause of this disparity soon became quite clear. The professors found that surveys that used mainly, or exclusively, online responses led to consistently higher estimates of national gambling harm compared to those surveys that used “paper self-completion” techniques as part of a face-to-face interview.

However, that does not mean the online versions were more accurate. Rather, it implies there is an element of selection bias in online surveys. Think about it – those people comfortable in using online surveys are, by definition, online users and more likely to use online technologies regularly like online gambling sites.

Add one other factor – that online respondents are more likely to admit to any issues they face than those undergoing face-to-face surveys – and you can begin to see why the online surveys identified more of a problem.

With all that being said, the research paper considered the online surveys were the way forward for three reasons:

  • The selection bias could be mitigated with a form of weighting in the results
  • Online surveying is faster and cheaper
  • In-person surveys should be intermittent and used for benchmarking.

GambleAware commissioned the study because it wanted a clearer picture of the true demand for treatment and support for those with gambling-related issues across the UK.

It will use the findings to inform better and direct the future Annual Great Britain Treatment and Support surveys, which contribute towards GambleAware’s interactive maps, showing the prevalence of gambling participation and harms at local authority and ward level across the country.

Professor Patrick Sturgis, Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics, said: “Our research has found that online surveys tend to systematically overestimate the prevalence of gambling harm compared to face-to-face interview surveys. However, given the very high and rising cost of in-person surveying, and the limits this places on sample size and the frequency of surveys, we recommend a shift to predominantly online data collection in future, supplemented by periodic in-person benchmarks.”

And Alison Clare, Research, Information and Knowledge Director at GambleAware, added: “We want our prevention, treatment, and support commissioning to be informed by the best available evidence, and having survey data we can be confident in, within the constraints of data collection in an increasingly online world, is key. GambleAware’s annual GB Treatment & Support survey is an important tool in building a picture of the stated demand for gambling harms support and treatment, and of the services, capacity and capability needed across Great Britain to meet that demand.”

UKGC will take notice

The Gambling Commission will review the results of the study with interest. If it is confirmed rates of gambling harm are as high as feared, then the online gambling industry (or the regulated parts of it) can expect to be under increased pressure to help.

New rules are expected soon after the UKGC’s well-publicised investigation of the country’s current gambling laws and what needs to be changed.

Operators in the UK have been casting nervous glances over their shoulders at what’s been going on in Spain recently. There, the country regulator, the Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego (DGOJ), has toughened up its stance on how minors might be exposed to gambling.

While stressing gambling was not a national problem, the DGOJ still introduced new measures that included:

  • Banning betting companies from sponsoring sports team shirts
  • Banning all advertising (on TV and digital) except for between 2am and 5am

Sports team sponsorship is still prevalent in the UK. At the start of the 2020/21 season, seven Premier League clubs were sponsored by betting companies.

And consider how many betting ads you see as a matter of routine on your television screens, especially during sporting events.

At least with the help of this new GambleAware research, any changes the UKGC brings in will be backed by more robust data.

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