The state of gambling in Great Britain By Andrew Tottenham, Managing Director, Tottenham & Co October 3, 2018 at 12:55 am Each September, the UK Gambling Commission publishes its annual survey of gambling behaviour in Great Britain (not the UK). So September is the month when gambling operators hold their breath and gird themselves for the predictable media onslaught. Last year’s headlines were certainly as expected: Mr Angry of the Daily Mail wrote “More than 2 million people could turn into gambling addicts”; from the Guardian there was “Number of problem gamblers in the UK rises to more than 400,000”. This year’s report, covering 2016, is now out, available at https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/PDF/survey-data/Gambling-behaviour-in-Great-Britain-2016.pdf). As for the media onslaught, this year there wasn’t a whimper. I was away travelling when the report was released, but a quick Google search revealed no headlines comparable to a year ago. Reading the summary in the report – most journalists do not get beyond that, it’s clear that the reason there was no media interest this year is that the rate of problem gambling had actually decreased in 2016; according to the report, it was down 0.5% compared to the prior year. (In reality, I think the rate is probably about the same because the decrease is well within the margin for error.) Operators should not be slapping themselves on the back because the rate of problem gambling didn’t increase. There are approximately 250,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain, which is far too many. The causes of gambling addiction and what methods work to alleviate the problem are poorly understood. More research needs to be done so that effective measures can be put in place to reduce the level of harm caused. It would be good to see the number of problem gamblers approaching zero. That is perhaps a pipe dream, but some people think it should be the aim of the industry, because if you don’t think big, big things do not happen. There is at least one sign of progress: next month, William Hill will be facilitating an event that brings together health professional and experts on gambling, gambling addiction, and relationships, to brainstorm how we might achieve the goal of eliminating problem gambling. Not only are they organising the event; they are creating a fund to pilot the ideas that come from the event. As usual, the annual report contains a plethora of statistics about gambling behaviour. Some are obvious, such as finding that fewer over-65-year-olds gamble online than the younger-age groups. Some are not so obvious, such as finding that more northerners gamble than southerners. Some should be worrying to the industry: participation in the National Lottery has dropped from 45% of all adults over the age of 16 in 2015 to 41% in 2016 (it was 59% in 2011). And excluding those who only gamble on the National Lottery, 42% of adults gambled in 2016 compared with 45% a year earlier. Apart from the National Lottery there is not one sector where the decline stands out, but when added together there is a overall downward drift. It is very difficult to sustain lotteries and scratchcard sales in the longer term without increasing the maximum prize. But increasing the maximum prize requires either that it become a lower frequency event or the removal of many of the smaller prizes. Even then, at some point an increase in the maximum prize will make no difference to sales, since it matters relatively little if someone can win £500 million rather than £250 million – both are life-changing events. I wonder if this lack of enthusiasm for organised gambling has to do with the general lack of trust in “authorities” that is pervading our society. Today, we have less trust than we did a decade ago in our politicians (some deservedly so!), police, doctors, scientific facts and studies, business, and media. Perhaps the decline in interest in gambling is part of this. Unfortunately, the annual survey does not address this point – it was not designed to do so. A longitudinal study of attitudes to gambling and other activities would help marketers and product developers design new campaigns and products to excite and maintain the interest of the gambling public. Would new campaigns and products increase problem gaming? I don’t think so – I see no contradiction between the desire, on the one hand, for the rate of problem gambling to be reduced and at the same time to want to see gambling thrive as an activity in our society.