The white paper – Proposals to update UK gambling legislation

continued from previous issue

By Dan Iliovici, Vice-President ROMBET

Gambling-Related Harms

The very nature of gambling involves risk and potential losses. It is clear that gambling-related harms can ruin lives, wreck families, and damage communities, with issues including mental health and relationship problems, debts that cannot be repaid, crime, or even suicide in extreme cases.

Gambling harm is often a result of the interplay between individual susceptibility, environmental factors, the products themselves and operator actions. However, as the PHE evidence review found, gambling and the associated harms are less well understood and researched than some other addictions such as alcohol misuse, and much of the available evidence is limited or varying in quality.

Firstly, the best available evidence suggests that the large majority of people who gamble suffer no ill effects.

Most gamblers report having never experienced any of the 9 indicators of harm in the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) screen as measured in the questions below:

• Have you bet more than you could really afford to lose?
• Have you needed to gamble with larger amounts of money to get the same feeling of excitement?
• When you gambled, did you go back another day to try to win back the money you lost?
• Have you borrowed money or sold anything to get money to gamble?
• Have you felt that you might have a problem with gambling?
• Has gambling caused you any health problems, including stress or anxiety?
• Have people criticized your betting or told you that you had a gambling problem, regardless of whether or not you thought it was true?
• Has your gambling caused any financial problems for you or your household?
• Have you felt guilty about the way you gamble or what happens when you gamble?

However, a small proportion does suffer significant harm as a result of gambling, and the PHE evidence review included a detailed quantitative analysis on this issue. Figure 3 shows the best available data on population problem gambling rates, which have remained broadly steady around or below 1% for over 20 years. Based on Health Survey data, we now estimate there to be approximately 300,000 people across Great Britain who meet the definition of being a ‘problem gambler’.

Benefits of gambling

There are also benefits to gambling which should be weighed in decision making, although they do not negate the need to prevent gambling-related harm. For most people who participate, gambling is a leisure and entertainment activity, as explored in the Gambling Commission’s research into why people gamble and its research into customer journeys. While the risks vary by product and other factors, gambling participation is generally not in itself harmful and may even be positive.

Gambling can be sociable, can help tackle loneliness and isolation, can enhance the enjoyment of other activities, and can be a valuable pastime in its own right, although quantifying these benefits is inherently difficult.

For the majority of people in the Gambling Commission’s research, gambling was just another normal activity which they reported feeling completely in control of. While motivations varied, around three quarters of respondents to the why people gamble study agreed that the opportunity to win money was a part of the enjoyment, while 66% agreed they ‘get a thrill from finding out if they’ve won or not’.

There are also economic benefits to having a well-regulated industry to service this demand. The sector pays approximately £2 billion per year to the government in duties (excluding Lottery Duty), accounted for £5.7 billion or 0.3% of UK Gross Value Addded (GVA) in 2019, and employed approximately 98,000 people in Great Britain in 2019. While many gambling companies do operate overseas hubs, the jobs in this country are geographically dispersed, with hubs of high skill work in areas like Stoke-on-Trent and Leeds.

The gambling sector also contributes significantly to other industries, including sport, advertising and racing. Horse racing in particular has a mutually beneficial relationship with betting, and the levy paid by bookmakers on their racing derived revenue contributes around £100 million a year to support the sport.

Gambling can also contribute to tourism, for instance to seaside towns across the country, or high-end casinos attracting wealthy overseas visitors who spend across a number of other sectors while in this country. Additionally, some gambling products enable charities and other non-commercial organizations such as sports clubs to raise valuable funds. For instance, large society lotteries generated over £400 million in 2020/21 in returns to good causes.

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