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Improving what we know about young people and gambling in 2021

Since 2011 we’ve undertaken the Young People and Gambling Survey, a survey of 11-16 year olds across Great Britain which is completed by pupils in school.

In January 2021, our plans for undertaking the survey in schools were quickly halted when schools were closed the day after many pupils returned from their Christmas holidays. With uncertainty about when schools would return, and not wanting to add to the pressure they were already under, we cancelled the 2021 Young People and Gambling Survey leaving us with a gap in our official statistics calendar.

Looking to make the most of an unfortunate situation we set about commissioning alternative research, which did not rely on pupils being in school. We used the opportunity to undertake exploratory research with young people, to look at ways we could improve the questions we ask in the Young People and Gambling survey in the future, and lastly, to be more open and transparent with data we had collected from these surveys in the past.

Our objectives and subsequent research

Objectives

1. Exploratory research to explore gambling behaviours amongst young people

We commissioned a qualitative piece of research with 16-30 year olds to explore the gambling journeys and current gambling behaviours of young people and young adults, and to take a retrospective look at how respondents interacted with gambling during their childhood. This work was published in August 2021.

We undertook 12 in depth qualitative discussions with 11-16 year olds to explore children and young people’s experience, awareness and understanding of gambling.

2. Improve the Young People and Gambling survey for future use in 2022 and beyond

We completed eight cognitive interviews with children aged 11-16 to test levels of comprehension of the current Young People and Gambling questionnaire with a view to making improvements for the 2022 survey.

3. Be more open and transparent with survey data from historic Young People and Gambling surveys

Formatting of historic datasets from the Young People and Gambling surveys from 2011 to 2019 which will be uploaded to the UK Data Archive by March 2022. By making the data more accessible, we hope others will be able to do their own analysis of the findings.

Subsequent research

The work we were able to commission during 2021 is qualitative in nature and based on a small sample of respondents. The research does not constitute a replacement for the official statistics (which will resume in 2022) but provide the opportunity to delve into certain areas of gambling behaviour in more detail – and help us to improve the quality of our statistics in the future.

In depth qualitative discussions (Objective 1)

We commissioned Ipsos Mori to undertake 12 in-depth interviews with 11-16 year olds. The interviews took place virtually during August 2021. The interviews were designed to explore young people’s experience, awareness and understanding of gambling.

The research was also designed to identify language that children and young people use to describe gambling and specific gambling activities. All respondents had experience of gambling either personally or through family members or friends.

This qualitative research was used to provide insight into participant perceptions, feelings and behaviours and explore the key reasons underlying participants’ views. As such, this qualitative research cannot, and does not, set out to be representative of the wider population.

Headline findings

The children and young people we spoke to had negative associations with gambling specifically around debt, loss of money, risk and addiction. These associations came from information in the media, or guidance from parents, rather than from personal experience.

Gambling was seen as inherently serious – but this meant the activities participants had taken part in (predominately bingo, private bets, scratchcards and arcade machines) were not necessarily thought of as gambling because they were perceived to be fun.

When asked to define gambling, children and young people tended to focus on three factors:

  • Skill – children and young people thought that activities requiring a certain level of skill or tactics to win were more likely to be classed as gambling compared to those which are purely luck or chance based
  • Seriousness - participants considered factors like risk, size of stake and potential addictiveness when determining if an activity was gambling or not
  • Intent - participants felt that activities that were done with the primary intention of having fun were not gambling as ‘winning’ was the secondary outcome
    Most participants who had experienced gambling had done so in a passive way such as picking lottery or bingo numbers or scratching off a scratchcard. None of the participants had gambled alone and had always done so in the company of friends or family.

Cognitive testing (Objective 2)

We commissioned Ipsos Mori to undertake cognitive testing of certain questions on the existing Young People and Gambling Survey, where either previous responses had indicated they may not be well understood or where questions were at risk of becoming outdated.

The aim was to understand levels of comprehension of the current Young People and Gambling Survey and to refine a suitable set of questions for use in future surveys, thus improving the quality of official statistics around gambling participation amongst children and young people.

Some findings from the cognitive interviews

It was cognitively challenging for 11-16 year olds to remember the types of gambling activities they had participated in whilst keeping in mind if they had spent their own money on these activities.

Recommendation:

It would be easier for children to answer this question if it was split into two, by asking an initial question about the activities they have taken part in and then asking a follow up question about whether they had spent their own money (or someone else’s money) on these activities.

It is burdensome for respondents to read a long definition of gambling, they become distracted by a long list of activities especially by those activities which they do not consider to be gambling. It was evident from the in-depth interviews that children and young people didn’t think of the activities they had taken part as gambling because they were fun, and they considered gambling to be a more serious and risky activity.

Recommendation:

To simplify the definition of gambling to ensure survey respondents aren’t overwhelmed by a long list of activities. By shortening the list of examples of activities used, this will reduce confirmation bias effects when thinking about which activities constitute gambling (i.e. only recognising certain activities as gambling and overlooking activities deemed to be ‘fun’).

Children and young people didn’t understand the terminology ‘crane grab’ machines nor were they familiar with ‘motorway service area’ as a location to play machines.

Recommendations:

Use ‘Claw machine’ terminology instead of ‘crane grab’.

Rather than asking respondents where they played machines it would be more effective to replace the question with one which asks if children and young people have played machines in an adults only area of an arcade, pub, bingo hall or holiday park. There was a good level of understanding of what was meant by an adults only area.

Taking on board the findings from both the qualitative in depth interviews, and the cognitive testing, we will be making improvements to the design of the 2022 Young People and Gambling Survey to enrich the quality of our research. Results from the 2022 survey will be available on our website in November 2022.

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