Problem gambling not increasing in U.K.

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The U.K. Gambling Commission released a report today that shows problem gambling hasn't increased over the past eight years since the last survey was done.

The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007 takes a look at the nation's participation in gambling and the prevalence of problem gambling both in the online and offline realms. It re-examines the population to build on what a survey commissioned by GamCare found in 1999.

Despite the changing nature of gambling in the past eight years with the growth in online gambling, the latest survey showed that approximately 250,000 or 0.6% of the adult population was affected by problem gambling. That's the same percentage found in 1999 to be affected.

The latest survey was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, in collaboration with professor Jim Orford at the University of Birmingham and professor Mark Griffiths at Nottingham Trent University.

It was undertaken to help the Gambling Commission understand the nature and scale of gambling in Great Britain before the Gambling Act of 2005 was implemented Sept. 1. Its aim is to measure participation in gambling, estimate the levels of problem gambling and the factors associated with it and explore the public's attitude towards gambling.

This survey will provide a benchmark that future surveys will be able to compare to in order to measure the impact of the new Gambling Act.

The key findings in the survey were in the areas of gambling participation, problem gambling and attitudes toward gambling.

In the issue of gambling participation, the survey found that 68% of the population, approximately 32 million adults, had participated in some form of gambling activity in the past year. That's actually a reduction from the 72%, or 33 million adults, in 1999.

Once the people who'd only gambled on the National Lottery Draw were excluded, that percentage dropped to 48%, compared to the 46% who participated in forms of gambling other than the lottery in 1999.

The National Lottery Draw was the most prevalent form of gambling participated in. The most popular gambling activities in Great Britain were:

  • National Lottery Draw - 57%
  • Scratchcards - 20%
  • Betting on horse races - 17%
  • Playing slot machines - 14%
  • Internet gambling such as online casino and online poker - 6%
  • Fixed odds betting terminals - 3%

Two different scales were used to measure problem gambling among the people who responded to the survey: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition and the Canadian Problem Gambling Severity Index.

The DSM IV measured the rate of problem gambling in the adult population at 0.6% or 284,000 adults. The Canadian PGSI measured it at 0.5% of the population, or around 236,000 adults.

According to the PGSI, the highest rate of problem gambling was found among those who participated in spread betting, fixed odds betting terminals and betting exchanges.

"The key message is that overall there has been surprisingly little change either in the number of gambling participants or to the number of problem gamblers since 1999," said Peter Dean, Gambling Commission chairman.

However, he said the commission remains concerned that there are still over a quarter of a million adults who are problem gamblers.

"The challenge for us and for the industry is to tackle this through the new licensing regime that has been put in place from 1 September. British-based gambling operators must now comply with strict and detailed social responsibility obligations, and we will monitor how these requirements are met," Dean said.

The survey is actually part of the Gambling Commission's commitment to protecting children and vulnerable people from harm from gambling. In order to meet that commitment, the Gambling Act requires gambling operators to:

  • Contribute to education and research about problem gambling
  • Put in place policies and procedures to discharge their social responsibility obligations
  • Train staff to recognize and deal with problem gambling
  • Prominently display where help can be found by those who need it
  • Enable players on the Internet to keep control by setting limits on their stakes
  • Provide for self-exclusion from gambling premises for players who seek it

The survey will be repeated in 2009/2010, and the Gambling Commission will assess the effect of the changes made with the enactment of the Gambling Act.

Perhaps public opinion will have shifted by that time as well. According to the report, the people who responded to the survey were more negative than positive in their attitudes toward gambling.

The average view was that gambling is more harmful than it is beneficial for individuals and for society.

However, respondents also generally agreed that people have a right to gamble, and were not in favor of total prohibition of gambling.

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