Ssshhh, don’t tell anyone: Problem gambling rates fall despite pandemic concerns

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After 18 months of voicing unfounded concerns regarding the pandemic’s effect on problem gambling, the Gambling Commission has released new data showing the problem gambling rate has actually fallen in the last year, with online participation increasing only due to the National Lottery. Who’d have thought it? Clearly no-one as the figures continue to be tucked away by the regulator.


The Gambling Commission has published the results of a new study showing a reduction in problem gambling rates to 0.4 percent, a figure the regulator calls “statistically stable”.

Despite concerns from anti-gambling campaigners that the pandemic would increase rates, the ‘Gambling participation: activities and mode of access’ report for the year to June 2021 detailed a reduction in the problem gambling rate to 0.4 percent from 0.5 percent for the same period last year. The number of ‘moderate risk gamblers’ has – in the regulator’s own words – “decreased significantly” to 0.7 percent from 1.4 percent, whilst low risk gamblers decreased to 2.0 percent from 2.3 percent.

The survey also asked respondents about their gambling participation in the previous four weeks, finding that the number of people who had gambled in this period had declined, falling to 41.6 percent from 45.1 percent. Online gambling participation rate increased to 25 percent from 23 percent a year prior, whilst in person participation dropped to 24 percent from 32 percent. The pandemic is likely to be the key factor for these changes, however, the increase in online gambling has largely been due to National Lottery customers moving to the operator’s website.

“It should be noted that much of the online increase can be explained by increasing proportions of respondents playing National Lottery draws online,” wrote the Gambling Commission, who also lists the lottery as one of its greatest achievements.

However, while the National Lottery currently enjoys great exposure at the Olympics, with athletes of all ages thanking players for funding their sport, the rest of the industry faces criticism and concerns ahead of a critically important gambling review. These concerns include an increase in online participation due to the pandemic, advertising, and the issue of affordability checks. The statistics, however, show that the current solutions to problem gambling are working and that participation – except for the lottery – is stable or decreasing.

Indeed, a truly evidenced- based gambling review could look at these statistics and decide the industry doesn’t need stricter regulations, and even that it deserves greater freedoms to evolve its products due to such a strong performance at decreasing problem gambling rates. Politics, however, will no doubt get in the way, and as MPs thank National Lottery players for funding Olympians from their constituencies, many will remain ignorant that the lottery is also the main reason behind any concerns that could be drawn from these latest statistics.

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