Tuesday, 14 January 2020

The problem gambling rate is still low

The latest estimates of the problem gambling rate in England were published last month. They received no media attention for reasons that will soon become obvious.

Two systems are used - the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth version (DSM-IV). Since we started measuring problem gambling rates in 1999, both systems have produced numbers within the narrow margins of 0.4 per cent and 0.9 per cent.

Three British Gambling Prevalence Surveys were published between 1999 and 2010. There was no clear trend, although there was a hint of a rise between 2007 and 2010.

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)

From 2013, the figures were collected by the Gambling Commission which only uses the PGSI methodology. Results were as follows:

2013: 0.5 per cent

2014: 0.5 per cent

2015: 0.5 per cent

2016: 0.7 per cent

Problem gambling estimates have now been properly incorporated into the Health Survey for England. The latest figures (for 2018) are...

DSM-IV: 0.5 per cent

PGSI: 0.4 per cent

Despite all the panic about the Gambling Act, internet gambling and fixed-odds betting terminals, the story of problem gambling in Britain in the last two decades can be filed under 'nothing to see here'. Rates are low by international standards and have remained low.

Most people probably think problem gambling has been rising over the years. If so, it is because the media seize on statistically insignificant rises and fail to report commensurate declines. That is why we have seen so many reports of the problem gambling rate doubling. In truth, they are meaningless fluctuations within wide confidence intervals.

The problem gambling rate has been essentially flat for as long as we've been measuring it. If the next Health Survey for England shows a rate of 0.6 per cent under one of the measures next year, don't be surprised if the newspapers lead with the news that the number of problem gamblers has risen by 50 per cent. It's rubbish. Ignore it.

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