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The 1% problem gambling myth and its misguided promulgation

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

2 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling questions the data behind the claim often used in gambling debates that problem gambling only affects less than 1% of the population.

It is often said that “Problem gambling only effects less than 1%”. Remove non-gamblers though and it will be higher. Remove once or twice a week National Lottery Draw players and it will be higher still.

The 1% actually relates to gambling activity in the past year, not over a life-time. Assume a longevity of 82 years for a person born in 1982, turning 18 in 2000, having a potential 64-year gambling life span until 2064.

Whether someone has been a problem gambler in the past year or not is almost irrelevant compared to whether someone will be a problem gambler at some time in their life. Please consider this chart above. This shows the theoretical average number of years of problem gambling alongside the percentage of people that will be problem gamblers at some time in their lifetime.

Is it realistic to think that (as per the final column) problem gambling only lasts one year and that therefore 64% of the population are problem gamblers at some time in their lifetime? Of course not! But is it any more realistic to think that (as per the first column) 1% of the population stay problem gamblers for 64 years? Again of course not!

Checking out the centre of this chart, there is an illustrative experience of 8 years of problem gambling affecting 8% of the total population. Suddenly the 1% myth sounds as though it is designed to hide the truth about the enormous consequential socio-economic cost.

So where does the 1% come from? It was originally from the British Gambling Prevalence Surveys, (BGPS) which were publicly funded but were discontinued after the last one in 2010. Gambling questions are now included in Health Surveys, but do not give as substantial a picture as the BGPS.

The same people who will spout the 1% headline will not acknowledge the robust independent secondary research on the same BGPS data. For 2007 this showed that FOBTs are more associated with disordered gambling than any other gambling activity. For 2010, this showed that estimated losses from FOBT problem gamblers exceed combined losses from problem gamblers over several other leading bricks-and-mortar gambling activities.

How much longer will the valid FOBT evidence be ignored and the 1% myth get quoted? 

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