UK regulator reports dip in problem gambling in 2018

4 March 2019

The Gambling Commission, responsible for regulating gambling in England, Scotland and Wales, has reported a slight decline in the prevalence of problem gambling in 2018.

The latest figures, released as part of the regulator’s annual investigation into gambling participation and public perception of the industry, suggest that 0.5% of people are classed as problem gamblers, based on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PSGI). This is based on a survey of 4,009 individuals in England, Scotland and Wales.

The 0.5% figure suggests a 0.1 percentage point decrease from 2017, which was in turn down by the same amount from the 0.7% prevalence rate reported in 2016. The survey suggested that there was a higher rate of problem gambling among male respondents, with 1.0% of males surveyed classed as having a problem. This dropped to 0.1% for female respondents.

Problem gambling appeared to affect those aged between 35 and 44 years old the most, with the 1.1% rate the highest among all age groups. The survey also suggested a decline in problem gambling among those aged from 25 to 34, with 0.9% considered to have a problem, down from 1.2% in 2017.

Problem gambling rates among 16 to 24 year-olds also dropped, down from 1.0% in 2017 to 0.9%.

Using the short-form PSGI, the report suggested that 1.5% of respondents displayed moderate risk behaviour. This jumped to 2.2% when looking only at male respondents, and fell to 0.8% among women. The 25 to 34 year-old group was most likely to have problems, with a moderate risk prevalence rate of 3.5% for this age range. A further 3.3% of respondents were considered low-risk gamblers.

Despite a slight decline in problem gambling and moderate risk behaviour, the survey suggested that more people gambled over the course of the year. In total, 45.8% of those surveyed said they had gambled in the past four weeks. The survey found that 50.8% of men had done so, compared to 40.9% of women.

Gambling was more common among older age groups, namely those aged between 45 and 54 years old (52.3%) and between 55 and 64 (55.0%).

However the National Lottery remained by far the most popular form of gambling. Participation rates fell to 32.1% when National Lottery products were excluded, though this was up marginally on the prior year. For online gambling, overall participation rates increased slightly to 18.5% of those surveyed, with igaming most popular among those aged from 25 to 34 years old.

Over the year, 27.6% of respondents said they had gambled on the National Lottery, with 11.2% saying they bought scratch cards. A further 10.8% gambled via other lotteries. Sports betting was the best of the rest, with 6.6% saying they had placed a bet in the past four weeks. When only looking at online gambling, sports betting was the most popular vertical, with 72.8% saying they wagered on sports online, compared to 30.7% saying they played the National Lottery online.

In keeping with the popularity of the National Lottery, 32.0% of people said they gambled once a week, followed by 31.2% that gambled at least once a month, but less than once a week.

Despite self-exclusion rates remaining flat year-on-year - at 6% - the Gambling Commission suggested there was growing awareness of the service. It found that 41% of those surveyed were aware that they could self-exclude, up six percentage points from 2017.

However, the majority of respondents were not even aware that self-exclusion was offered by operators. 53% said they did not know they could voluntarily block themselves from gambling, though this represented a five percentage point year-on-year decline.

Of those that did block access to gambling sites, 52% said they did so to control their overall spending, while 42% said they did so to limit their spending with one specific brand.

The figures also revealed a significant lack of awareness in additional social responsibility controls offered by operators. Just 2% had excluded from a specific product, and 25% were aware that this was an option. The figures were similar for the time-out feature, with 3% using the service, and 35% aware, and for reality-check services (3% and 30%, respectively).

There was greater awareness of limit-setting, with 9% of players actively setting limits on how much and how long they gamble, and 51% aware that such controls were available, despite not using it.

The survey also revealed that public perception of the industry was worsening. Just 30% of all people believed gambling was fair and can be trusted - down three percentage points from 2017 - with 38% of the opinion that gambling was associated with criminal activity.

While 62% said that people should have the right to gamble whenever they want, 79% believe that there are too many opportunities to gamble, and 71% believe it is dangerous for family life.