Unpacking the Gambling Survey for Great Britain - Part 1

Unpacking the Gambling Survey for Great Britain - Part 1
Simon Wooldridge
by Simon Wooldridge Last updated:

The Gambling Survey for Great Britain (GSGB) is still in its early stages, but could soon start to help inform the direction of policymaking for the UK gambling industry. It's expected to paint the truest picture yet of the nation’s gambling habits, highlighting areas of potential concern.  

With a particular focus on the prevalence of problem gambling, the survey aims to deliver the most robust set of data so far – key to helping experts get to the heart of any issues.

Ahead of the first wave of findings from the GSGB, there was already praise for the methodology and structure of the survey, with an independent assessment offering a glowing endorsement.

Professor Patrick Sturgis of the London School of Economics is hopeful the results will prove to be valuable moving forward. 

“The Gambling Commission has engaged with a broad range of stakeholders and followed industry standards of best practice in developing a survey design that can be expected to yield high quality and timely estimates of gambling prevalence in Great Britain”.

Welcoming the assessment, Tim Miller, Executive Director of Research and Policy at the Gambling Commission said it was “clear that better evidence, driven by better data will lead to better regulation, which in turn will lead to better outcomes".

Whilst we only have the first 'wave' of data that could influence the next wave of gambling regulation, it’s worth reflecting on the potential value of this type of exercise.

Data-driven decisions

There is, at present, some confusion over the true numbers when it comes to gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling. Getting a true insight into the facts is the first step in developing a system of regulation that can effectively manage the issue.

No one is in any doubt that problem gambling affects only a small minority of gamblers. The trouble is, current, conflicting data shows that the problem ranges from 0.3% of the adult population, through to a staggering 2.5% of the population – that’s 1.3 million British adults, a figure that defies belief.

Without consistent data, no one really knows the true scale of the problem. Without an accurate picture, it’s impossible to know the true extent of problem gambling or make the right decisions to address the issue.

One of the Commission’s key missions is to safeguard consumers, and protect against gambling harms. Indeed, the trend towards ever-tighter regulation comes amid a somewhat opaque understanding of the breadth and depth of the problems that need addressing. 

Without an understanding of the data, data-driven decisions become impossible. Instead, regulators and industry are left to battle it out over arguments of ideology, which seldom produce the best results. 

Everyone with an interest in gambling regulation wants informed, rational decision-making around policy. Exercises like the GSGB will help provide a more solid foundation for regulation and a baseline against which the effectiveness of policy changes can be judged.

Too often at the moment, decisions are made, argued for and against, and then brought into force with all sides in the dark about the realities on the ground. Accurate, ‘exemplary’ data could for the first time provide a clearer picture of what’s really going on. 

Early findings

The survey’s initial findings already paint an interesting picture. Some 48% of adults gambled in the last 4 weeks, with 21% of respondents gambling on the National Lottery only.

Participation is highest in men aged 45-54, though when adjusted for the lottery, the bulk of gambling participation falls to males between 18-44. Online gambling participation over the past four weeks is 38%, but falls to 16% when the National Lottery is removed from the statistics.

The National Lottery and charity lotteries were the most common gambling activities, at 31% and 16% respectively, with scratch cards (13%), betting (10%) and instant wins (7%) the next most popular.

Fun and enjoyment were the most commonly cited reasons for gambling, with monetary reasons in second place.

While more data will emerge in due course as the GSGB continues to survey and report, these early findings already tell some interesting stories. Firstly, the popularity of the National Lottery, including online, accounts for a massive swathe of gambling participation. The majority of online gamblers in the past four weeks have exclusively gambled on the National Lottery.

Together with scratch cards, the National Lottery is clearly a huge driver of online and offline gambling participation.

The age ranges are also interesting, reflecting a general trend towards younger gamblers participating in non-lottery gambling. While this is perhaps unsurprising, it remains to be seen whether there are further demographic splits across particular types of gambling, such as sports betting. 

The younger these age groups ultimately trend, the more likely it seems that the Gambling Commission will take the view that more needs to be done to protect younger gamblers. 

A welcome start on the road to better regulation

Understanding a problem is the first step to effectively tackling it. In that respect, having accurate data is a start on the road to better regulation. That’s something we welcome, in line with much of the rest of the gambling industry.

To achieve the goal of truly protecting consumers from gambling harms, having a clearer picture of the broader warning signs is crucial. But so too is having a benchmark against which we can compare, so it’s easier to draw conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. And a reflection of the real numbers currently suffering from gambling harms certainly won’t hurt efforts, either. 

We back the Commission for taking steps towards introducing greater clarity through the survey – especially with gambling regulation set for a significant overhaul in the coming months.

Whatever the data shows, its collection is a step in the right direction towards finally shining the light on problem gambling prevalence. Only when armed with this knowledge can the industry focus its resources on reducing the numbers and severity of those impacted by problem gambling.

Stage 2 of the survey will be released on 27 June 2024. 

Simon Wooldridge
by Simon Wooldridge Last updated:

Simon’s long-term fascination with slots started with teasing 40p worth of change from the skilful spinning of 10p coins into a fruit machine in the last century. This has grown recently to a solid appreciation for the often dazzling artistry, imagination and mechanics of modern online slots.