Statistics show the UK loves a flutter, but more action needed on problem gambling

  • Results have hardly changed since 2012, researchers say, suggesting that harmful gambling rates are flat
  • Almost 65% of the UK’s adult population are thought to gamble each year, with lotteries the most common activity

The UK Gambling Commission has today published its latest research into the country’s gambling habits leading the regulator to urge a sharper focus on tackling problem gambling and the damage it can cause.

At risk gamblers statistics. Source: NatCen Social Research 2015.
At risk gamblers were more likely to be men, and more likely to be unemployed. Source: NatCen Social Research 2015.

This report marks the first time in seven years that a comprehensive study has investigated the gambling behaviors of the UK.

Included in the analysis, carried out by NatCen Social Research for 2015, were factors such as participation rates, problem gambling, and at-risk gambling, as well as activity type and related habits.

The Gambling Commission’s executive director, Tim Miller, has said that for the majority of those who participate, gambling is a fun hobby.

But for a significant amount of people, having a flutter can become a problem if it is done so irresponsibly, which could cause serious harm to the gamblers, their relatives, and their wider communities.

He continued, saying that although Britain’s problem gambling rates have stayed relatively stable in recent years, the new research suggests that more than two million people could be classed as either at-risk or problem gamblers.

Key findings

The findings themselves were revealing. Although just 1.4% of the gambling population was deemed “problem gamblers,” 6.4% were thought to be “at-risk” of going on to develop problematic gambling behaviors. The prior 2012 report concluded with similar findings in this aspect.

Gambling participation in the UK is weighted towards the lottery and scratchcards. Source: NatCen Social Research 2015
Gambling participation in the UK is weighted towards the lottery and scratchcards. Source: NatCen Social Research 2015

In total, 63% of the UK’s adults had gambled in the year preceding the study, with men being more likely to do so (66% versus 59%, respectively). Perhaps because of this, men are also likelier by 1% to develop harmful gambling habits than women, at 1.1% and 0.1%, respectively.

The habit of problem gambling was also found to be more widespread in those who had taken part in several gambling activities during the year prior to the study, than among those who had taken part in only one gambling-related activity. So someone who plays scratchcards, the lottery, bets on sports and plays poker, is more likely to develop a problem than someone who just likes playing blackjack.

It was also found that middle-aged people were more likely to gamble compared with younger and older populations. Likewise, employed people were likelier to gamble than those who were unemployed or retired (at 69%, 56%, and 57%, respectively).

And by activity type, lottery-style games were the most popular among those who gamble, with National Lottery draws at 46% participation, scratchcards at 23%, and other lottery games at 15%.

Bingo-type games were much more common among women than men, with 8% percent of gambling women likely to participate in them compared with just 4% of gambling men.

Expert opinions

Miller said that it is their mission to ensure that gambling is made fair and safe. He also mentioned that the pace of change had, in the past, not been quick enough, and that more needs to be done to get it up to speed and address harmful gambling.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, Sir Chris Kelly, has said that the results of the new analysis show gambling’s continued harmful effect on the people of Britain.

He added that operators are responsible for managing a large portion of the agenda to solve problem gambling, and that they ought to show more strongly their positive impact on their customers by promoting safe betting.

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