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New research disputes problem gambling rate in Great Britain

| By Robert Fletcher
A new report into the fiscal benefits and costs of gambling in Great Britain has estimated the current problem gambling rate to be 0.7% of the population, higher than the previous figure published by the Gambling Commission.

In October 2022, the Gambling Commission released its latest gambling participation and prevalence survey, in which it said the overall problem gambling rate was 0.3%, the same as it had been in September 2021.

However, new research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, funded by the Gambling Commission, suggested this figure was higher.

Fiscal burden of problem gambling rate

Focusing on the fiscal burden to the exchequer associated with harms arising from problem gambling, the “Fiscal Costs and Benefits of Problem Gambling: Towards Better Estimates” study looked at a number of key areas related to the issue.

The central estimate was that the number of people experiencing problem gambling is 0.7% of the total population of 16 years and older living in private accommodation, which the study said corresponded to approximately 380,000 people. 

On that basis, the report said the total fiscal cost associated with harms from problematic gambling is £1.40bn (€1.58bn/$1.74bn) per year.

The study also estimated that the fiscal cost per person experiencing problem gambling is approximately £3,700 per year compared with people experiencing “at-risk” gambling. The bulk of the fiscal cost relates to higher welfare support, in addition to increased healthcare, criminal justice costs and the costs of homelessness.

However, the report also noted that calculations were likely an under-estimate of the true fiscal burden and actual figures could be higher.

“Due to a lack of publicly available data, it has not been possible to include the costs to “affected others”, which arise from the links between gambling, debt and family breakdown, or the costs of suicide linked to problem gambling,” the study said.

Proposed reforms

In response to the findings, the research team put forward a number of potential reforms, including the recognition of the fiscal costs of problem gambling in the government’s proposed regulatory changes as part of the delayed review of the 2005 Gambling Act in the white paper.

The team also called for the inclusion of clear screening diagnostics for people experiencing problem gambling in the next rounds of the Wealth and Assets Survey (WAS), adding that it would update its fiscal estimates once data from the 2022 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) is available.

In addition, researchers said large-scale data collection should form part of the remit of the Gambling Commission, especially in relation to the association between problem gambling and affected others and between problem gambling and suicide.

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