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The Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) CEO Andrew Rhodes has penned an open letter criticising the “misuse of statistics” in the industry to support arguments around regulation.

In the letter, Rhodes recognised the divisive nature of the gambling sector and suggested “it is not for the Gambling Commission to attempt to referee all points in a debate.”

Faced with that reality, he said, all stakeholders have the right to put forward their own arguments on the sector, but that “what is wholly unacceptable is the misuse of statistics to support that argument.”

The UKGC is highly 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.”

Misused statistics

“The Commission has seen misuse of statistics from gambling operators, trade bodies, charities, media outlets, sporting venue owners and others,” Rhodes wrote in his open letter.

“This is unacceptable. All parties seeking to rely on statistics to advance their arguments must do so accurately and in the correct context,” he added.

The most commonly misused statistics relate to figures around problem gambling, Rhodes said, especially when the term is conflated with gambling-related harm.

“Problem gambling and gambling-related harm are two separate, but linked, experiences,” the letter reiterated.

That causes a particular problem in the sector, Rhodes said, as statistics referring to the prevalence of “problem gambling” are wrongly being used to refer to the proportion of people in Britain who experience gambling-related harm.

Clarification of terms

To put a stop to the misuse of those statistics, Rhodes set out specifically what the UKGC means when it refers to “problem gambling”.

“The term ‘problem gambling’ means gambling to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits,” he wrote. 

“It can be measured by a number of screening tools; the Commission predominantly uses the PGSI (Problem Gambling Severity Index).”

The proportion of Britain’s population considered problem gamblers according to the PGSI has been measured at between 0.2% and 0.6% by the Commission, with the most frequently cited figure being 0.3% (of the entire population).

That statistic has led many to claim that “’99.7% of people who gamble do so without being harmed”, or that “only 0.3% of gamblers are harmed,” Rhodes said. 

“This is not true and misrepresents the statistics.”

How statistics are misused

The UKGC has previously published statistics on the prevalence of problem gambling and gambling-related harm as a proportion of those who gamble, rather than of the population as a whole.

Those statistics show a higher rate of problem gambling, with 0.8% of people who had gambled in the past 12 months falling into the category.

Additionally, the UKGC has identified different rates of problem gambling among players of different product types.

For lottery, around 0.9% of players were found to be experiencing problem gambling. In retail horse racing betting, the figure is around 2.8%, while for online slots, casino and bingo, the figure is as high as 8.5%.

Elsewhere, some have used the 0.3% figure to suggest that only that proportion of the population is “at risk” from gambling harm.

This figure both conflates problem gambling with gambling-related harm, Rhodes wrote, and fails to recognise that the 2021 Health Survey for England showed 1.2% of gamblers at “moderate” risk of harm, and a further 4% at “low risk”.

“The debate around gambling is often a fierce one, but nobody is well-served by statistics being misused to further an argument,” Rhodes added. 

“I therefore ask anyone commenting on this area to take a greater degree of care to ensure they are using evidence and statistics correctly, accurately and in the proper context and with any necessary caveats applied,” he concluded.

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