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25 March 2021

UK lags behind other countries on research into gambling harms

More funding is needed to better understand the scale and nature of the problem

Stressed woman

Identifying research priorities on gambling-related harms

Read the research

The UK must catch up with other countries on research into the harms caused by gambling if it’s to get a handle on the issue, a new study suggests.

Carried out by the Policy Institute at King’s College London for the charity Action against Gambling Harms, the study found that, compared with other nations such as the US, Canada and Australia, there is relatively little research into the damage caused by gambling in the UK.

This is important, the report says, as overseas findings are not always translatable to a UK context, given cultural differences and variations in types of gambling products and gambling laws.

More funding is needed to address the lack of understanding of the problem in the UK, the study recommends.

The study’s findings will be submitted to the government, as part of its review of the Gambling Act 2005, which was announced in December last year.

The researchers looked at four key aspects of gambling in the UK and found all lack crucial evidence.

1. Economic costs

The NHS, local authority social care and wider adult services, as well as prisons, are all being asked to include gambling as part of their remit. They are developing and financing initiatives involving staff training, screening, signposting and support for gamblers and others who are affected.

However, the study found only one piece of UK-based research that attempted to quantify the cost of such initiatives to the public purse, and this was limited to only a small number of areas in which problem gamblers come into contact with support services.

2. Gambling by children

The researchers also found very little evidence on the negative outcomes of gambling among children and adolescents in the UK – although much more research has been carried out into these issues internationally.

The report stresses the need for more longitudinal studies, which track children’s gambling behaviour over time. Such studies are particularly vital, it says, given the extensive exposure of children today to gambling marketing, and the gambling-like aspects of some online games played by children and teens.

3. Gambling by women

The study found there is a historic male bias in research into gambling harms, in part because gambling is often seen as a male issue, which means women are less likely to come forward for treatment.

However, more and more women are beginning to gamble, as the industry attempts to “feminise” gambling products and venues.

Australia, New Zealand, Canada and mainland Europe have done most of the relevant research into the harms of gambling to women, the study says, while there is a clear gap in the UK literature.

4. Gambling on sport

Research “may be struggling to keep pace” with advances in gambling on sport, the study warns, as online betting and new gambling opportunities, such as daily fantasy sports, mean the situation is fast-evolving, creating difficulties in assessing any harms caused.

But while research into the wider damage associated with this kind of gambling is scarce, there is evidence of a link between betting on sport and problematic gambling, the study says.

This important study shows how much we still don’t know about gambling and its effects on British society. We hope that these findings will galvanise research institutions and policymakers into commissioning further work to fill the gaps.

Seema Kennedy OBE, CEO of Action against Gambling Harms

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