Gambling: a big public health problem neglected

Written by Professor Jim Orford on .

The Gambling Commission has just published a summary of British survey findings for 2015. The results are not new but this is the first time they have put together the results from separate surveys carried out in England, Scotland and Wales. The surveys were of people 16 years of age and older so they do not include younger children and teenagers. Nor do they include people living in institutions such as prisons or care homes, nor students living in halls of residence, nor homeless people. So the results should be considered as underestimates of the prevalence of gambling problems.


Even so, the figures suggest that no progress is being made in reducing problem gambling prevalence. The Commission’s estimate is that the number of British adults with gambling problems is in excess of 300,000 which is a huge number in public health terms. There is a ‘confidence interval‘ around that figure which could be lower at around 200,000 or higher at nearly 500,000. To that figure can be added another approximately 550,000 (somewhere between 400,000 and 700,000) who indicate in their answers to survey questions that they are gambling in a way that is risky – a large group of so-called ‘moderate risk gamblers’.


The Commission’s report contains lots of more detailed findings. Amongst them are the finding that unemployed people, although fewer of them gamble, are more likely that employed people to be problem or moderate risk gamblers. Similarly, those in intermediate and routine manual occupations, although they are no more likely to be gamblers than those in managerial and professional occupations, are more likely to be problem or moderate risk gamblers.


What is being done by Government to respond to this sizeable problem? I have recently seen some particularly telling figures from the USA*. It turns out that problems of substance misuse in that country are about 3½ times as prevalent as gambling problems, but the quantity of public funds spent on the treatment of substance problems is nearly 300 times as great as the quantity of public funds spent on the treatment of problem gambling! I don’t know what the figures would look like for the UK but I imagine the picture would be not dissimilar.


We have a big public health problem with gambling which we are neglecting. Meanwhile individuals and families are suffering, especially those who are less well off. Is this acceptable?



*Those US figures have been put together for a new book, due out later this year or early in 2018. The book, Toxic Games. Gambling, Science, and Public Policy (edited by Pekka Sulkunen of the University of Helsinki, Finland and Thomas Babor of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, USA), is likely to be an important landmark in the scientific literature on gambling problem gambling. The editors and authors are international experts on the epidemiology and social science of problems related to dangerous forms of consumption such as consuming alcohol and gambling. They are going to be hard-hitting in their conclusions. For example, they say: the expansion of commercial gambling represents a major new source of inequality on a global scale; most of the misery serves private profit; the public revenues from gambling do not help the poor.


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Comments (1)

  • Joe B Permalink

    Tell our government , our communities being ripped apart by FOBTs egm clustering of bookies , entrapment , free this n free that ,

    about 2 months ago

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Friday, November 24, 2017
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Opportunities for gambling in Britain have increased very considerably in the last 20 years and were given further encouragement with the passing of the 2005 Gambling Act. The latest British Gambling Prevalence Survey, carried out in 2009/10, found that between one third and one half a million British adults experienced a gambling problem in the previous 12 months.
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