A new study by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) claims that “at least 30,000 children as young as 11” are problem gamblers, according to a report in The Telegraph. That’s enough to trigger the anti-gambling pundits in the UK and other countries. But the actual data doesn’t support the findings.
Problem gambling has become the single most important target of gaming regulators and authorities in all countries with established markets. However, regular studies have shown that, in many cases, including in the UK, Spain, and other jurisdictions, the level of “problem gambling” hovers at around just 1%. Still, the focus on problem gambling remains a fixation.
Accurate reporting, however, can make it easier to differentiate between the legitimate representation of data and the desire to push a narrative. The UKGC’s latest findings lean heavily into the latter category.
Suppressing the Facts
The information expressed in The Telegraph report provides data from a UKGC-commissioned study by market research company Ipsos Mori. The organization routinely receives grants for surveys from the regulator and responsible gambling entities like GambleAware.
The study showed that 0.9% of UK children from 11 to 16 years of age are “problem gamblers.” This, it states, represents 30K children. In addition, another 75K children, or 2.4%, are “at risk” for developing gambling problems.
Ipsos Mori found that around 31% of children had spent their own money on gambling in the 12 months prior to the survey. The results have caused reactions from a number of groups, including the Church of England, which is pressuring the UK government to take action.
However, hidden between the lines of the report are several facts that have yet to rise to the surface. The first is the depth of the survey itself. Twenty-five hundred children participated, which, based on data from Statista, represents only 0.15% of the UK child-age population, estimated at 1,641,019 in 2020.
The survey also determined that, of the 31% of children that spent their own money on “gambling,” a portion of that went to arcade games – video games, claw machines, and others. While some people have tried to assert that arcade and video games are a gateway to gambling, there’s no conclusive evidence that a correlation exists.
The first arcade video games arrived in 1971, and have been enjoyed by millions of children and adults since then. The overwhelming majority of them didn’t turn into gambling addicts.
Putting aside the oversights in the survey, there’s another tangible result that cannot be ignored. In 2020, Ipsos Mori conducted a similar survey for the UKGC. The results show that Britain’s approach toward gambling is improving.
That previous survey found that 1.9% of children in the same age group fell into the “problem gambling” category.
Rewriting the Gambling Industry
Gambling advertising is a sore subject with many gambling opponents. Some countries, like Italy and Belgium, have gone to extreme lengths to drive a wedge between sports and sports betting. The UK is on the same path.
The 2020 Ipsos Mori study also revealed something else. At the time the study was conducted, approximately 58% of 11-16-year-olds admitted to coming across gambling advertising or sponsorships. Since then, however, according to the organization, the level has increased to 85%-95%.
Despite that massive jump, there hasn’t been an increase in youth-level problem gambling. Instead, the level has dropped. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the gaming industry can scrap its responsible gambling agendas. But it shows that operators have been doing a good job at policing the market.
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