New report unveils the threat of problem gambling in Wales

Online gambling, Thinkstock

A new report published by the University of South Wales (USW) unveils that a quarter of people that gamble don’t identify themselves as gamblers, and using Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and betting online on sporting events are the most addictive types of gambling.

There has previously been little independent data produced around problem gambling, which is receiving growing attention from politicians and the media. A group of USW academics has looked at the impact of problem gambling in Wales, speaking to individuals who have sought help at gambling and other support services, support providers themselves as well as reviewing broader gambling patterns.

They found that 26% of people who responded to a survey do not consider themselves to be gamblers, but 99% say they take part in gambling activity. The results also showed that men gamble more frequently than women, and the National Lottery, slot machines and betting online on sporting events are the most common gambling activities. People who gamble most frequently use phone apps, betting shops and gambling websites.

Individuals who drink at hazardous and harmful levels gamble more frequently, have less control of their gambling and a high motivation to gamble, according to the survey findings. It also found that young people are more likely to gamble after drinking alcohol.

The negative impact of problem gambling is clear in the report - with many personal accounts including personal struggles and despair, family breakdown, poverty, and growing up with the threat of homelessness.

One respondent to the survey said: “It kills families. And it’s one that’s hidden, and usually not helped. And nowadays, it’s too easy… on phones, online, in shops.” 

Existing research literature suggests that, in the absence of specialist gambling services, gamblers needing treatment often surface in other support agencies, such as debt or alternative addiction services. However, this report found that most of these agencies do not routinely ask clients about gambling behaviour.

With the exception of services that deal exclusively with gambling issues, the overwhelming majority of the service providers noted that they very rarely came into contact with service users who have apparent gambling issues.

Most also raised that there are a number of barriers to support organisations identifying gambling issues in their clients, citing a lack of training and resources in treating gambling problems, a potential stigma around gambling which may make individuals reluctant to discuss it, as well as a lack of specialist services in Wales to which individuals can be referred.

The survey also found that use of Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in Licensed Gambling Outlets (LGOs) or online betting on sports events are clear predictors of impaired gambling control. Together they contribute 80% of the risk of impaired gambling control, with individuals reporting they are addictive and easy to access.

An analysis of the locations of LGOs in five local authorities (Denbighshire, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham) found that they are in high-density clusters in some towns.

In Wrexham there are 12 LGOs within a 400m radius (eight bookmakers, three adult gaming centres and one bingo venue). In Newport, there are 11 LGOs within a 400m radius (six bookmakers, four adult gaming centres and one bingo venue). In Pontypridd there are six LGOs within a 400m radius (six bookmakers and two adult gaming centres).

The report has also found that clusters of the LGOs in Newport and Wrexham are in the most socio-economically deprived Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOA).

Bev John, Professor of Addictions and Health Psychology at USW, said:

“The initial study aimed to understand a sample of experiences from people who have sought help for gambling addiction, from people who provide support services as well as to gain a broader understanding of attitudes and habits around gambling across Wales.

“Our evidence suggests that not only are there discrepancies in how people define ‘gamblers’ and their own gambling behaviours, but there are increasingly more avenues for people to participate in what can be a highly-addictive activity.

“The prevalence of the online market for gambling, particularly for betting on sporting events, as well as the addictive nature of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, are high-risk factors, with our research suggesting that these two types of gambling contributing to 80% of the risk of impaired gambling control.

“Our research has also found that the support provided by specialist services is invaluable to people who have accessed it, but there is a lack of these services in Wales, and other support agencies feel that a lack of skills and resources for treating problem gambling means that not everyone who needs help for gambling addiction is necessarily being identified and receiving it.”

The report has been produced in collaboration with Jayne Bryant AM, Mick Antoniw AM, Lesley Griffiths AM, Jane Hutt AM, and Ken Skates AM.

Jayne Bryant, Assembly Member for Newport West, and lead AM for the study, said:

“The purpose of this report was to give us a current understanding of problem gambling in Wales. I know from my surgeries and from speaking with other local organisations that problem gambling is a growing issue, but that it remains chronically underreported. There is still a huge stigma around it.

“This report shows that people often gamble alone, online and use it as a coping strategy for other issues. This toxic mix can often lead a person into addictive behaviour, unknown to their loved ones. Moving forward, we need a more in-depth piece of research to unpick, substantiate and further highlight gambling trends in Wales. We have to shine a light on this taboo, so we can know the true scale of the problem and get people the help they need.”

Mick Antoniw, Assembly Member for Pontypridd, added:

“Problem gambling must no longer be ignored.  What the report exposes so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Problem gambling is a significant and growing public health time-bomb. It is a problem that will get worse if we do not take action.  Westminster must act, but there is also things we can do in Wales to educate the public and to restrict the growth of betting machines.

“The gambling industry’s lust for profit is creating this problem and it has a moral responsibility to change its ways and provide proper funding to help those whose lives have been blighted.”

You can view the full report here

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