More Better Data, Please By Andrew Tottenham, Managing Director, Tottenham & Co March 15, 2018 at 2:00 am The Gambling Commission of Great Britain has released its annual report on participation rates and the perception of gambling for 2017. Every year, the Gambling Commission ask approximately 8,000 people (4,000 men and 4,000 women) about their gambling in the last four weeks, with the report usually published in February of the following year. So what did this year’s report tell us? Things are not terribly rosy for the National Lottery; for the other sectors, it is a mixed bag. Over the last four years, participation in National Lottery draws is down from 37 percent to 27 percent, whereas participation in casino games was up from 1.2 percent to 1.6 percent of respondents, gaming arcades up 10 percent (2.0 percent to 2.2%) , sports betting climbed from 4.1 percent to 6.4 percent, horse race betting was down a significant 42 percent (6.4 percent to 4.1 percent of respondents), and bingo rose from 2.5 percent to 3.3 percent. I’ll come back to casino games and bingo later. Despite the recent furore over FOBTs, over a four-year period the number of players, despite a downward blip in 2015, has remained fairly constant at 1.4% of respondents. The remote sector appears particularly buoyant. For four years in a row it has seen participation grow, from 15.5 percent of respondents to 18.3 percent of respondents overall, and from 10.4 percent to 13.6 percent when you exclude the National Lottery’s online products. But reading the report should give operators and regulators cause for concern. Even a casual reading reveals the growing mistrust the public has for regulated gambling. The proportion of respondents who believe that gambling is fair and can be trusted has decreased by 20 percent over the last four years, from 41.2 percent to 33.0 percent, and the belief that gambling is associated with criminal activity has remained fairly constant, about 41%. However, these are numbers in a vacuum. Whenever somebody makes statements like these, my immediate reaction is ‘why?’ Is it all gambling they mistrust? One particular sector? Was it one experience that has coloured their view? Were they were misled by a promotion, or not paid when they claimed their bet had won? More detail here would be extremely useful. And, again, that gambling is associated with theft and fraud is not a terrifically surprising or unique attitude, but what does this actually relate to? Do they believe operators are criminals and fraudsters, or that gambling too much can lead to theft and fraud, or perhaps that people rob betting shops because of low staffing levels? The latter is a particular favourite of some sectors of the British media. Each of these examples represents a completely different view. Do all of the respondents have the same perception? I doubt it. Does each remain constant? Who knows? More detail would be extremely useful. If the researchers could drill down and investigate whether these views on trust are more prevalent with people who play in specific sectors, and the reasons behind their beliefs, governments, regulators, and operators would then be able to more easily make informed decisions. Most of the data in the report are informative and useful, but I have an issue with the way some of the data on participation are presented. Due to the types of questions being asked, the actual participation rates for certain sectors is somewhat opaque. For example, we are told that 45 percent of respondents have gambled on one or more forms of legal gambling in Great Britain in the last four weeks, including the National Lottery draws. When the National Lottery draws are removed, this figure drops to 31 percent. But there are society lottery and lottery scratchcard activity within the non-National Lottery figures presented, and the detailed data provided in an annex to the report only gives percentages for each activity or groups of activity. Many of the respondents will have gambled on more than one gambling product, and so it would be incorrect to add the participation rates for each sector to get an aggregate figure. It is therefore not possible to say what percentage of the respondents only gamble on lottery or non-lottery products. There is also a problem with the use of the terms ‘casino games’ and ‘bingo.’ According to the footnotes, when data are given for ‘casino games’ or ‘bingo’ they include people who have played either in person or online. So for brick-and-mortar casino participation rates, all we can say is that 1.6 percent have gambled on casino games in person or online in the last four weeks and 2.2 percent have played on slot machines in casinos in the last four weeks. Therefore, at most 3.8 percent of respondents have gambled in brick-and-mortar casinos in Great Britain in the last four weeks. My guess is that it is significantly less. This causes further confusion when the report looks at the proportion of people who have gambled on casino games – whether in person or online – who have played a casino game in person in the last four weeks. Stay with me! This proportion has dropped from 70.3 percent in 2014 to 57.5 percent in 2017. On the face of it, this looks pretty bad for the brick-and-mortar industry, but might it be caused by an increase in online casino game players in the denominator? Have a look at the converse, since it’s conveniently provided: the proportion of in-person or online casino game players who have played online casino games in the last four weeks has risen from 45.3 percent to 67.5 percent. It could be that things are looking bad for the land-based casino sector, or that a growing number of the total respondent sample are playing casino games online, but it is difficult to see without the raw data. Similarly, the report breaks down playing preference by the common demographic groups usually used for populations studies. For age-based preferences, one of the age bands is 16- to 24-year olds. However, while It is quite legitimate for 16- and 17-year olds to gamble on lottery products like prize draws and scratchcards, it is not for other forms of gambling. So, when they give the participation rates for non-National Lottery draw gambling, what can we assume about the playing behaviour of 16- and 17-year olds in this group? It would have been helpful if the researchers had given a further breakdown of this age band with the gambling preferences of 16- and 17-year olds. My concern is that the published statistics for the 16-24 age group become fairly meaningless and are easily misconstrued without these further clarifications. I would think that the purpose of this report is to inform policy decisions and help the regulator make sensible choices about drafting and implementing new regulations or revising old ones. Gambling is regulated by sector, with each sector having its own set of regulations. Data should be provided in a granular way so that people can see the impact of laws and regulations on people’s playing behaviour. And, while it may be politically unhelpful, being able to tease out the data in a way that shows what the individual’s specific view of gambling is – whether it’s positive or negative and whether it relates to a recent news story or a particular sector or sectors – would allow governments, regulators and operators to at least potentially do something about it.