Friday, 1 November 2019

Britain's low rate of problem gambling

Last month I tweeted something based on an article in the Economist...

The statistics for Finland were challenged by one or two people, so I did my own research and found that the 3.3% figure comes from this study in the BMJ published last year...

In 2015, the overall prevalence of past-year problem gambling was 3.3%.

However, the latest official figures from Finland give a figure that is half of that...

When the severity of problem gambling was measured using the Problem and Pathological Gambling Measure (PPGM), 1.6 per cent were classified as having a gambling problem...

This is still considerably higher than in Britain where the rate of problem gambling has been hovering around 0.7% ever since it first started to be measured in 1999. In the most recent dataset, it was exactly 0.7%. The figure for Sweden, which until very recently also had a state monopoly on gambling, is reported to be 1.5%.

But there are different ways of measuring it. While the DSM and PGSI systems produce similar results in Britain, I am not familiar with the PPGM measure used in Finland.

Fortunately, I was able to find directly comparable figures in this thorough piece of work. It was published in 2012, so some of the figures will have changed somewhat in the meantime (indeed, the figure used for Britain is higher than it is now), but it is nonetheless illuminating. Using the same methodology for every jurisdiction, the authors found that...

Depending on the specific country and the survey year, the standardized past year rate of problem gambling ranges from 0.5% to 7.6%,with the average rate across all countries being 2.3%. In general, the lowest standardized prevalence rates of problem gambling tend to occur in Europe, with intermediate rates in North America and Australia, and the highest rates in Asia. More specifically, the lowest standardized prevalence rates occur in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany. Lower than average rates are seen in Great Britain, South Korea, Iceland, Hungary, Norway, France, and New Zealand. Average rates occur in Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, United States, Estonia, Finland, and Italy. Above average rates occur in Belgium and Northern Ireland. The highest rates are observed in Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, and South Africa.

I'd be interested to see more up-to-date statistics, if they exist, but all of the above seems to point to the same conclusion: the rate of problem gambling is below the international average in the UK and is higher in countries like Finland, Sweden, the USA and Hong Kong where there is far more state control.

Despite the emergence of online gambling, fixed odds betting terminals and the relaxation of some laws under the 2005 Gambling Act, the rise in problem gambling that was predicted by many never materialised.

Whether you look at Britain in the last twenty years or compare countries, it is difficult to see any correlation between regulation and problem gambling.

To many foreigner visitors, the UK may seem like a bit of a free-for-all, with bookies on every high street (albeit not for long), fruit machines in most pubs, legal casinos, several lotteries, gambling advertising on television after 9pm, bingo halls, arcades and a lively online sector.

So what is the secret of Britain's low rate of problem gambling? My own theory is that it's because we are relaxed about letting children gamble for low stakes. This takes away the 'forbidden fruit' element and there's nothing like playing the blatantly rigged penny waterfalls as a child to teach you that the house always wins, it's just a bit of fun, and you shouldn't expect to make a living out of it.

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