By Naomi Muggleton
and Neil Stewart

Mobile gambling is booming

andresr / Getty Images

Gambling has changed a lot in recent years. With mobile apps, people have unrestricted access to the global betting market from anywhere in the world at the touch of a button. As the number of players increases, so do the bookmakers’ profit margins and the number of problematic gambling games. Still, we cannot say for sure how gambling and financial problems are related.

In the UK, the number of active online gambling accounts has grown from around 16 million in 2008 to 30 million in 2019. The Gambling Commission, an industry regulator for England, Scotland and Wales, estimates that up to 300,000 people can be problem gamblers – gambling in ways that disturb or harm their lives. A similar pattern has been observed in other countries.

As a result, there are some setbacks. The Gambling Commission is currently reviewing the current legislation, has announced new restrictions on the operation of online bookmakers and there is talk of banning sports shirts from gambling, reminiscent of the time when tobacco companies faced a similar ban.


But there is still a lot we do not know about the effects of gambling.

Since surveying gamers is time consuming and costly, much of the research that exists relies on surveys of the most extreme gamers. This is problematic for several reasons. Extreme gamblers are difficult to reach and likely to incorrectly remember or distort their gaming habits. Another problem is the assumption that the problems associated with gambling affect only a small fraction of the most extreme gamblers, while gambling researchers believe that lower levels of gambling can also be harmful.

Understanding the societal impact of gambling requires extensive, objective data on the harms of gambling, which were lacking until recently. In our recent study, we looked at anonymized data from a UK bank of around 6.5 million people, 40 percent of whom gambled, to see what financial, social and health outcomes disproportionately affect those over a 7 year period. While not entirely representative of the UK population, it is the most comprehensive picture of gambling and the damage it causes to date.

We found that people who gamble, even if it is a relatively small portion of their monthly budget, see a small increase in onerous financial results, such as: B. when they fall behind on their bills and mortgages or use a payday loan than those who don’t gamble. t. This risk increases with higher gambling rates.

The relationship between gambling and harmful life experiences is not purely financial. If we look at the time of day people spend money, we can see that those who gamble are more likely to be up in the middle of the night, a sign associated with poorer mental health. Players are also more likely to receive future disability payments – based on incoming social benefits – and are more likely to lose their jobs in the future. We also find that all levels of gambling are linked to higher mortality rates for men and women, young and old.

While none of these correlations are a cause, gambling appears to be closely linked to negative outcomes in people’s lives. This suggests that a public health approach, such as an advertising ban, could reduce the harm. Targeted approaches, such as enabling game blocks to be blocked on checking accounts or limiting the amount that can be played, would also be beneficial for people with a higher level of gambling.

We will only know if these approaches work through a large-scale randomized trial. It’s time we found out.

Naomi Muggleton is at Oxford University and Neil Stewart is at Warwick Business School

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