Wednesday 1 March 2017

Problem gambling - apocalypse postponed again

There has been a small amount of coverage of the latest statistics from the Gambling Commission, but it has focused on the unexceptional news that 'nearly half of Britons like a flutter'. The Gambling Commission's report also contains an estimate of the number of problem gamblers, which the Express reports as follows:

Among those who have gambled in the past 12 months, 0.7 per cent were identified as problem gamblers, up from 0.5 per cent in 2015

If this is a rise in problem gambling it must be about the thirteenth rise since the media became obsessed with this issue in 2004. I have written before about the claim that problem gambling keeps doubling and doubling despite the number of problem gamblers never getting any bigger.

In truth, the rate of problem gambling has been within the narrow margins of 0.4 per cent and 0.9 per cent ever since it first began to be measured in 1999. The first three reports in 1999, 2007 and 2010 used two different methodologies and came up with the following estimates:

1999: 0.6 per cent (DSM-IV), N/A (PGSI)

2007: 0.6 per cent (DSM-IV), 0.6 per cent (PGSI)

2010: 0.9 per cent (DSM-IV), 0.7 per cent  (PGSI)

Responsibility for collecting the data was then handed to public health bodies who came up with the following estimate for England and Scotland (combined) for 2012:

2012: 0.5 per cent (DSM-IV), 0.4 per cent  (PGSI)

Since 2013, the figures have been collected by the Gambling Commission which only uses the PGSI methodology. Results are as follows:

2013: 0.5 per cent

2014: 0.5 per cent

2015: 0.5 per cent

2016: 0.7 per cent

The Gambling Commission's sample size is only 4,000 people, which is not much when you consider that less than one per cent of them are going to be problem gamblers (ie. fewer than 40 people). The different between the 2015 and 2016 estimate is, the Commission notes, not statistically significant and we now have data from a period of 17 years that shows no change in the number of problem gamblers.

This, despite the panic about online gambling, gambling advertising and fixed odds betting terminals.

Speaking of fixed odds betting terminals, some research was conducted in 2011, based on the 2007 gambling survey, which found that 'controlling for gambling involvement substantially reduced or eliminated all statistically significant relationships between individual gambling activities and problem gambling, except in the case of machines in bookmakers'.

However, the same researcher has now done a similar analysis of the data from the 2010 and 2012 surveys and found that...

  • The original conclusion that there is no consistent evidence that particular gambling activities are predictive of problem gambling, after controlling for the level of involvement, holds true in 2010 and 2012.
  • The 2007 finding that machines in bookmakers are the exception does not persist into 2010 and 2012.
  • It appears that any ‘significant’ effects borne out of the results are most likely an unexplained variation in the sample.

In other words, there has been no rise in problem gambling and no one type of gambling product can be said to 'cause' problem gambling, including fixed-odds betting terminals.

Perhaps it is time everybody calmed down a bit?

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