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19 December 2013

Young men most likely to have gambling problems

Young men most likely to have gambling problems

Young men are the most likely to gamble, the most likely to gamble the most, and most likely to have gambling problems. The Health Survey for England contained new figures on the number of people gambling and measured the level of problem gambling.

The latest nationwide statistics for gambling behaviour suggest a lower level of problem gambling in the overall population as well as a decline in participation in any forms of gambling. In the past year 65 per cent of all adults gambled, whereas in 2010 the figure was reported at 73 per cent, a larger reduction occurred among women, decreasing from 71 to 61 per cent.

In 2007 and 2010 the government funded full scale gambling prevalence surveys to assess the level of participation in gambling and the prevalence of problem gambling. However, following a review and after funding cuts, discontinued this approach against the recommendations of the Evangelical Alliance and other faith groups involved in campaigning for safer gambling who continued to call for the most robust possible research.

The present study, together with the Scottish Health Survey which reported in September will now be brought together along with an estimate for Wales for full comparison with the 2010 study. The surveys were designed to maintain comparability, however, some concerns have been raised that the use of a different vehicle to conduct the enquiry could have distorted the results.

The overall level of problem gambling for England in 2012 (when the field work took place) was measured as 0.4 per cent by one method used and 0.5 per cent by the second. This compares to 0.7 and 0.9 per cent in 2010. If this does represent a real reduction in problem gambling, which it would appear to suggest and is a statistically significant change, this is a welcome development.

When the figures are broken down some concerning trends remain behind the overall positive picture. The survey uses two screens to identify problem gamblers, and one of these also identifies those who are at a moderate or low risk because of their gambling behaviour. When this is broken down by age and gender it shows that 17 per cent of men aged 16-24 are at some risk.

One of the commonest indicators of problem gambling is use of multiple forms of gambling, and among these multiple forms, the use of slot machine and machines in betting shops (counted separately in the survey). On both of these measures young men are also the most likely to exhibit these habits, 10 per cent of men aged 16-34 gambled in more than seven different ways in the past year, this is vastly more than for any other age group or any group of women.

Problem gambling wherever it is found is a cause for concern, and the government, Gambling Commission, and the gambling industry cannot be complacent on the back of one set of positive statistics. In particular it shows specific interventions may be needed for groups that are likely to be at higher risk, from the latest numbers, young men.

The current approach to harm minimisation in gambling appears inclined to focus too much on adjusting gameplay through pop ups and other interventions. A more robust response is needed, those forms of gambling where problems more often occur need to be addressed and the time for waiting for more research and evidence on fixed odds betting terminals in bookmakers is over. Detailed analysis of the data from 2010 found that 23 per cent of the money spent on these machines was spent by people with gambling problems. A scoping study showed that machine data provided by the gambling industry will only be of limited use. It is time for the government to take action.