The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has published further specific details on concerns related to the “misuse of statistics” as relayed by CEO Andrew Rhodes to Dame Caroline Dinenage, the Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on 29 August.
Micheal Dugher (CEO, Betting and Gaming Council – BGC), Wes Himes (Executive Director for Standards and Innovation, BGC) and Will Prochaska (Strategy Director of Gambling With Lives – GWL) are individuals highlighted in the letter.
Earlier this month, Rhodes had expressed ‘deep concerns’ on the misrepresentation of gambling statistics” deemed as an “unacceptable” practice used by a wide range of groups with interests in either the gambling industry or its reform.
“I am writing to you to highlight several areas where Official Statistics about gambling have been misused or misquoted during recent oral evidence sessions held for that inquiry,” Rhodes declared to Dinenage.
“As much as everyone is entitled to present their arguments, it is wholly unacceptable to misuse statistics to support that argument. The Commission is very concerned at the significant increase in the misuse of statistics around gambling as different parties seek to make persuasive arguments for or against different proposals. And we would not want your Committee’s important work to be undermined in anyway as a result of this.”
The letter is accompanied by an annex detailing instances in which the Commission believes official statistics have been “misused or misquoted – whether deliberately or otherwise”.
Furthermore, Rhodes cites the terminology around gambling related harms as a ‘connected issue’ used to frame statistics that seek to measure harms, which are then “conflated or disregarded”.
With regards to framing, the UKGC maintains a distinction between problem gambling (gambling that disrupts personal/family/recreational pursuits) and gambling-related harms (adverse impacts on health, well-being, resources, etc.).
Perceptions of problem gambling
A statistic many industry observers will be familiar with is the UKGC’s own estimation of the UK problem gambling rate, which it puts at 0.3% based on the problem gambling severity index (PGIS), derived from its quarterly telephone surveys.
However, Rhodes’ annex takes issue with the use of the stat by the BGC’s Dugher and Himes, stating that the NHS’ Health Surveys which put the figure at 0.4% are considered the official statistics.
The duo’s claim that the “Young People and Gambling” report showed a decrease in children’s participation in gambling had fallen from 23% to 7% was also called a ‘mischaracterisation’ by the Commission.
Elaborating, the Commission advised against using the data for comparison, due to ‘explained changes’ in its survey methodology of 2011 and 2022 data sets.
The BGC has often compared the UK’s problem gambling rate to that of other countries, leading to the Commission flagging a statement by Himes that rates ‘have nearly halved since 2017’ leading to “one of the lowest problem gambling rates internationally”.
In response, Rhodes asserted: “Problem gambling rates are also not comparable internationally due to different survey methodologies and different ways of measuring prevalence of problem gambling.”
The regulatory chief also noted that Himes’ remarks that rates have ‘nearly halved since 2017; are not supported by data, as the 2018 Health Survey for England reported a problem gambling rate of 0.5%
On the inverse side, the Commission has also criticised apparent inflation of problem gambling rates by some commentators. For example, a remark by Prochaska was highlighted as misleading.
Prochaska had said that “there are 100,000 children in the UK who are either already addicted to gambling or at risk” – the UKGC stated that its 2022 Young People and Gambling Survey put the figure as 0.9% of 11-16 olds, which it stated “does not amount to 100,000 children”.
No Concrete data on Suicide
Once more, Rhodes underlines the current predicament that there is “no robust figures on the prevalence of severe harms in Great Britain such as gambling-related suicide.”
“However, the Commission has been developing new survey questions that will give us a far better understanding of this issue across the whole spectrum of gambling involvement, including questions on suicidality (ideation and attempts).”
It is noted that gambling suicides are an extremely difficult area of academic research, as studies cannot accurately explain reasons why people take their own lives.
As stands the Commission has never produced or endorsed a specific data source on gambling-related suicides, but has referenced the findings of the OHID review citing “figures of between 117 and 496 suicides associated with gambling issues.”
Published in January, Rhodes noted that OHID review was immediately misused as certain campaigners quoted “496 gambling-related suicides, or a suicide every day”.
“We have even seen this figure then extrapolated to say 10% of suicides in the UK are due to gambling. This is not a reliable or accurate way to use the range published by OHID, and the estimated range of 117 – 496 represents a very large confidence interval, further demonstrating how difficult it is to be definitive on such an emotive and complex topic.”
A settlement is Required
Rhodes’ letter to Dinenage was published during the week in which a Select Committee received oral responses on the recommendations of the Gambling Review’s White Paper, with statements made by the UGKC Chief Executive alongside two other senior figures at the regulator.
As cited by Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew, UK gambling remains behind the curve on its research related to gambling harms and societal impacts for informed policies.
Despite a divergence of views, the government stands by its mandate to deliver generational reforms and new terms of play for UK gambling, in which it is not prepared to move ahead with any additional reforms post the adoption of White Paper reforms.