Problem gambling explained in six graphs

Why we’re asking MPs to support a gambling levy

Steve Moffatt
Mar 6, 2019 · 4 min read

Gambling is a big part of UK society. We see it everywhere, from the bookmakers which line our high streets, to the seemingly endless adverts online and on TV. Unfortunately problem gambling causes a lot of harm to people and communities across the country, ranging from people losing jobs to split families or homelessness.

Below are six simple graphs explaining the extent of problem gambling in the UK and why we need to do more to support those affected.

About half the population gambles every month

Although the level of gambling varies depending on sex and age it’s pretty clear a lot of people are gambling regularly. These statistics capture a broad range of gambling including sports betting, online gambling, doing the lottery and going to a casino.

More and more people are gambling online

Although the number of people gambling seems fairly steady over the last few years, there’s a growing trend of online gambling. It’s getting easier to gamble with smartphones and people are seeing more online ads. The increases might seem small, but 1% is the equivalent of 660,000 people.

There are 400,000 problem gamblers in the UK, with many more at risk

Most people who gamble do so without any problems. Unfortunately this isn’t true for everyone. It’s estimated that there are around 400,000 problem gamblers in the UK with a further 3.4 million people at risk of problem gambling. People who gamble in a harmful way often can’t control how or when they gamble. It can get in the way of work and family life and is a major cause of unaffordable debt. This is particularly destructive for the 30% of problem gamblers who earn less than £11,000 a year.

Problem gambling often overlaps with other issues

While these issues can occur alongside, or precede, problem gambling, problematic gambling itself is often a root cause to many of these conditions. Polling we carried out in 2018 found that people with a history of problem gambling often had personal experience of other issues like alcohol. Almost half of problem gamblers had a history of alcohol problems, one in four had problems with drugs, and three in five had experience of anxiety and/or depression.

Trying to deal with all these issues along with mounting debt and feelings of shame can be extremely isolating and make people feel helpless.

It’s thought that between eight and ten people in a problem gambler’s life are also negatively affected by the issue. The financial and emotional strain can fracture relationships and cause major stress within a family.

Only one in fifty problem gamblers get support

We know that many people who have problems with gambling want to change but support isn’t always available. Just one in 50 problem gamblers currently get help or support. For those fortunate enough to get treatment, the average length of time between starting to gamble and getting support is nine years.

Problem gambling is ruining lives, destroying families and exploiting deprived communities

Of local authorities with the most betting shops, all (aside from Leeds) have unemployment rates higher than average. Problem gambling has been shown to increase criminal activity, absenteeism from work and lost economic productivity.

The gambling industry only spends 0.04% of their winnings on treatment

Every year the gambling industry gives money to GambleAware to spend on education, research and treatment through a voluntary donation. Each betting company decides whether they want to contribute and, if they do, how much they want to give. Last year betting companies gave roughly £5.5 million for treatment.

During that period the industry made £14.4 billion from people gambling in the UK, £5.4 billion from online betting alone. Spending on treatment is about .04% of total winnings. The gambling industry wins 2,500 times more from gamblers than what they contribute towards help and support.

Here’s what Mike Dixon, our Chief Exec, wrote earlier in the year:

We have argued for a long time that the Government needs to put a statutory levy on the industry to raise funds for treatment, and that this should be distributed without favour or prejudice by a truly independent body.

It’s a model that works in other countries like New Zealand for gambling, is working today in Britain for debt and would work for alcohol too. And it would change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and their families.

A levy would be popular, simple and solve a genuine problem people care about. It’s even quite simple to do in a jam packed parliament: the primary legislation is in place and just needs the Secretary of State to activate it. Technically, MPs don’t even need to vote to make it law.

Too many people are struggling with gambling problems. We’re reaching only a fraction of people who need help. Even where treatment is available, it’s not good enough. The industry needs to step up. That’s why we’re writing to all MPs to ask for their support.

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