Sunday 27 January 2013

Gambling addiction soars?

From the Independent on Sunday...

Addiction soars as online gambling hits £2bn mark

As the online business business approaches the £2bn mark and bookies seek to lure in new punters, the number of Britons at risk of becoming addicted is growing rapidly.

Two claims are being made here: firstly, that the online gambling market is worth £2 billion and secondly—presumably as a result—gambling addiction has "soared". Both these claims are reasserted in the first line, except cause and effect are switched around and the future tense comes into play.

A huge increase in gambling addicts will make Britain's obsession with online betting a £2bn business.

So, what's the evidence for this?

New evidence reveals that the number of people in danger of becoming problem gamblers has reached nearly a million, while hardcore addicts have doubled in six years to almost 500,000.

Strange, because the British Gambling Prevalence Survey hasn't been published since 2010 and there won't be another one because the government has cut its funding. I discussed the results of these three surveys (1999, 2007, 2010) in my IEA report about casinos.

Despite predictions in the popular press that two per cent of the population would be “addicted” to gambling by 2007, the figure remained at around 0.6 per cent of the population between 1999 and 2007. Evidence from the the past five years is more equivocal, with one of the internationally recognised measures of problem gambling finding no statistically significant rise in prevalence between 2007 and 2010 (PGSI) and the other finding a rise from 0.6 per cent to 0.9 per cent that was on the margin of statistical significance (DSM-IV).

In terms of numbers, the British Gambling Prevalence Survey says:

This equates to somewhere between 342,000 and 593,000 adults according to the DSM-IV and between 254,000 and 507,000 adults according to the PGSI.

Assuming that the Independent on Sunday means "problem gamblers" when it uses the tabloid term "hardcore addicts", both sources allow the possibility that the figure is "half a million". The British Gambling Prevalence Survey has settled on a very rough estimate of 451,000.

But this is from a report published three years ago. The Independent on Sunday tells us there is "new evidence" that "hardcore addicts have doubled in six years to almost 500,000". Where is it?

Halfway down the page, after a load of editorialising about how ghastly the 2005 Gambling Act was, we finally get to it...

The Gambling Commission, set up under the Act to regulate gambling, carried out its most recent national survey in 2010. In addition to the 450,000 problem gamblers in the UK – up more than 200,000 since 2007, with an average debt of £17,500 each – the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) found that another 900,000 people were at "moderate risk" of becoming problem gamblers, while 2.7 million more displayed "some risk factors".

Right. So the "new evidence" is a report that came out in 2010. It doesn't say that addiction has "soared" and it doesn't say the number of "hardcore addicts have doubled" (because the 2007 report never said there were 200,000 problem gamblers). What it says is this (PDF)...

DSM-IV problem gambling prevalence was higher in 2010 (0.9%) than in 2007 and 1999 (0.6% for both years). This equates to around 451,000 adults aged 16 and over in Britain. The increase was significant at the 5% level. However, the p-value was 0.049, showing that this increase is at the margins of statistical significance. Some caution should be taken interpreting this result as there may be some other underlying factor affecting estimates between survey years. Where possible, differences between the responding samples were taken into account and the result remained significant at the 5% level (p=0.046). Further surveys are needed to examine if this is evidence of an upward trend in problem gambling prevalence or simply random fluctuation in the data.

Not quite the terrifying picture painted by the tabloids, is it? The 2010 study also found that the proportion of adults in the UK who played online casino games, online bingo and/or online betting rose from 6 per cent to 7 per cent between 2007 and 2010. Again, hardly the last days of Rome, is it?

But you've got to love this line about the 2005 Gambling Act...

As with 24-hour drinking, few predicted the consequences.

No one correctly predicted the consequences, perhaps. I recall lots of people, including the Independent on Sunday, waxing hysterical about how we would become "a nation of gambling addicts" in the same way that virtually the whole of Fleet street confidently predicted that the Licensing Act ('24-hour drinking' in tabloid-speak) would lead to a massive rise in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related violence. None of it happened, but let's not allow the facts to get in the way of good story.

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