Gambling participation and prevalence

The Gambling Commission (GC) has piloted a new approach for collecting data on gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling.

The Gambling Commission (GC) has piloted a new approach for collecting data on gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling amongst adults in Great Britain. The aim was to develop a single, high-quality methodology that measures gambling participation and prevalence of problem gambling.

About the study

The pilot involved testing a new push-to-web methodology, using random probability sampling, to measure gambling participation, gambling harms, experience of problem gambling and a range of other related topics among adults aged 16 and over living in Great Britain. Push-to-web is a cost-effective method of collecting data from a wide number of people, it also allows increased numbers of people to be interviewed at a relatively lower cost, something that is important for the analysis of gambling harms. 3,755 addresses were sent an invitation to take part in the survey where two adults per address aged 16 and older were invited to take part. Once the data from the pilot was collected, the core survey estimates were compared to data from HSE 2018.

In December 2020 the Gambling Commission launched a consultation to gather views on proposals to develop a single, high-quality methodology that measures gambling participation and prevalence of problem gambling. This will allow the Gambling Commission to have a more efficient, cost-effective data source providing robust and timely insight with the flexibility to swiftly provide information on emerging trends relating to a range of gambling behaviors.

The Gambling Commission chose the National Centre for Social Research and the University of Glasgow, in partnership with Bryson Purdon Social Research to undertake the pilot phase to test the new methodology for collecting participation and prevalence statistics, including information on broader gambling harms.

It is crucial that the new survey continues to meet the highest levels of methodological rigor and is in accordance with the official statistics requirements. To ensure this, the Commissions set out a program of piloting, testing and evaluation before any changes are made, to ensure that all stakeholders who rely on this data have confidence and trust in the new approach.

Findings from pilot stage methodology review

  • The pilot survey had a response rate of 21% where at least one adult per household in eligible addresses completed the survey. 1,078 adults fully completed the questionnaire (44% of whom were men, and 56% women). 57% of participants completed the survey online and 43% completed the postal questionnaire.
  • The postal element of the pilot survey was valuable in terms of improving the representativeness of the overall sample in relation to age and internet usage.
  • The pilot survey produced higher prevalence estimates – both for gambling activities in the previous 12 months and for low or moderate risk or problem gambling in comparison with 2018 HSE data. 63% of pilot survey participants reported having gambled in the previous 12 months compared with 54% of HSE 2018 participants.
  • The greatest difference between pilot survey and HSE 2018 estimates relates to the at-risk and problem gambling prevalence. In the pilot survey 1.3% of participants scored 8 or higher on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) compared with 0.4% of participants in HSE 2018. There was little difference between the surveys in relation to the prevalence estimates among older people, but the pilot survey produced higher estimates for younger people, particularly women in relation to online gambling rates and at risk and problem gambling prevalence.
  • The analysis has highlighted two potential causes of the differences. Firstly, it is possible that response rates were higher among gamblers than non-gamblers, which may lead to somewhat higher estimates of problem gambling prevalence. Secondly, it appears that there were differences between the two surveys in the way that survey participants completed the PGSI, with the differences greatest for women. This needs further investigation but may be because people provide more honest answers when reporting behaviors online than when filling in self-completion when an interviewer and other family members are present.

Alongside the pilot survey, other development work was carried out between October 2021 – March 2022 consisting of the following:

  • Group discussions with key stakeholders as well as a survey of a wider group of stakeholders, to ensure that a wide range of views have been heard and support built for the survey and its results in the future. Three key stakeholder groups were convened for the consultation representing: Lived experience; Policy and academic users; and Industry representatives.
  • Cognitive testing of new gambling participation question(s) to be used in the experimental phase, harms associated with gambling questions and the invitation/reminder letters to the survey.

Next steps

Based on these findings, the authors recommend that the push-to-web methodology is suitable for roll out to the experimental statistics stage, subject to the following recommendations:

  • Retain the postal follow-up to the online survey
  • Retain the mailing strategy
  • Undertake further work to further understand non-response bias towards non-gamblers and make changes to reduce it
  • Increase the age of eligibility from 16 to 18 years
  • Consider increasing the sample size, to allow for more split-sample experiments and sub-sample analysis to be conducted during the experimental phase
  • Further refine and test questionnaire content whilst considering how the average completion time can be reduced

The Gambling Commission will be taking on board the recommendations from the project as they move to the experimental stage. They also intend to commit additional investment to increase the sample size for the survey and continue their work to develop a set of new questions for measuring gambling related harms as well as making other questionnaire improvements.

NatCen researchers: 

Robert Ashford, Beverley Bates, Debbie Collins, Charlotte Bergli

External researchers:

Dr Heather Wardle (University of Glasgow), Dr Susan Purdon, Dr Caroline Bryson (Bryson Purdon Social Research)