‘Lack of empirical research’ into gambling-related harm, AAGH study finds

Research commissioned by Action Against Gambling Harm (AAGH) has found that the UK must do more to investigate levels of gambling-related harm.

Conducted by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, the investigation explored four different subject areas: financial harms and affordability, betting on sport, gambling by children and gambling by women. 

Among the key findings of the report, the AAGH argued that there was ‘relatively little research on gambling harms in the UK’ when compared with the US, Canada and Australia.

The research also identified significant ‘gaps’ in British conceptual literature discussing problem gambling, particularly regarding women and gambling as well as the provision of a general definition of ‘gambling-related harm’.

Seema Kennedy OBE, CEO of AAGH, stated: “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.”

Arguing that the ‘feminisation of gambling products and venues by the industry’ has led to an increase in the number of women gambling, the AAGH research disclosed that there was a ‘lack of research’ on this issue, and more needed to be done.

However, the study acknowledged that there are ‘promising avenues for future research,’ identifying behaviours and experiences of harm, as well as differences between immigrant and ethnic minority communities; the connection between mental health and problem gambling; and longitudinal studies on betting behaviour over time and the effectiveness of harm reduction, as potential areas for further exploration.

The AAGH highlighted an absence of research into affordability and the financial costs of betting, locating a ‘small body of work that analyses the correlation between poverty and problem gambling,’ in addition to ‘several in-depth studies’ which assessed the financial harms that both gamblers and their families can face.

Although these studies were highlighted, the AAGH’s research found very little evidence of interventions which specifically target affordability and financial harms as well as the characteristics of gamblers in relation to monetary difficulties. 

The potential for problem gambling to have harmful effects on children, on the other hand, has been extensively researched, according to the study.

Investigators found a ‘large body of literature that related to the question of the harms associated with gambling among children and adolescents,’ identifying substance abuse, ‘delinquent behaviour,’ poor mental health and low academic performance as widely highlighted consequences of problem betting on children and adolescents.

Studies evaluating interventions to prevent gambling related harms among younger people were also identified, despite the significant gaps in research, particularly relating to the lack of longitudinal data analysis as the majority of studies were ‘cross-sectional’ in nature.

Lastly, the probe claimed that research into sports betting ‘may be struggling to keep pace.’ finding that the relationship between sports betting and problem gambling had been extensively researched, but exploration of the harms that can result from this are ‘much scarcer’.

Relating to the aforementioned topic of children, AAGH did acknowledge that prior research had suggested that the promotion of sports betting could be harmful for existing problem gamblers as well as raise awareness of the activity among children. 

Findings also showed that qualitative studies had outlined instant depositing, cash out features and in-play betting and the prevalence of mobile apps are all features that ‘can increase gambling frequently and problem gambling behaviour, and increase the risk of harms’. 

Overall, the AAGH has argued that although a Gambling Commission survey in 2019 found that 47% of the UK’s population admitted to gambling at some point in the previous four weeks – suggesting a prevalence of betting in the country – there is a distinct ‘lack of empirical research’ on the potential harmful consequences of the activity.

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