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Evidence theme 3 - Gambling-related harms and vulnerability

Evidence theme 3 - Gambling-related harms and vulnerability

This theme is about:

  • gaining a better understanding of the different ways that consumers can experience harms
  • being able to identify these consumers who may be more vulnerable or at risk of experiencing harms.

It is one of the Gambling Commission’s three licensing objectives to protect children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling and this has been at the heart of many regulatory changes in recent years, informed by a wealth of research on the topic. However, even defining vulnerability can be challenging, as a consumer’s vulnerability is not necessarily static.

The Commission has a commitment to collect robust, timely insights for a range of gambling behaviours, including the extent to which gambling harms are experienced, with the pilot methodology review report published last year. The range of gambling experiences and product risks are considered in different themes. There are many more situational and demographic factors linked to gambling-related harms, however, as well as evidence of inequalities in the way that harms are experienced. This justifies more in-depth research requiring different research tools and partnerships with other agencies that may inform policies for the prevention of harms.

Early gambling experiences are considered in evidence theme 1 but, among adults, research has shown links between gambling and harms such as financial losses10, depression11, intimate partner violence12 and others. At its most extreme, gambling-related harms have been linked with increased suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and completed suicides.13 The limitation with much of the research into these factors is related to data quality – many of these factors are associated with each other without the influence of gambling, which makes it difficult to look beyond correlation to establish whether there is a causational link and, if so, how strong it is.

Similarly, factors that increase an individual’s vulnerability to gambling-related harm have been identified as including events which can happen to anybody at any stage of life, including bereavement, relationship breakdown, poor health and impulsivity.14 A greater understanding of the impact of these factors – which a gambling operator is unlikely to know about - and how best to offer timely protections against increased risks is important.

Other demographic characteristics of interest that may be experiencing harm in a different manner include gender, age and socio-economic groups. Other factors that remain under-researched in relation to their association with gambling-related harms include marginalised and hard-to-reach groups, those with neurodiversities (such as autism or ADHD) and the experiences of different ethnic groups. As well as harms experienced by gamblers, more could be done to understand the impact on 'affected others', former gamblers who are still impacted by the consequences of their gambling and exposed to gambling advertising, and the impact on society as a whole.

This theme, perhaps more than any of the others, has the widest range of potential questions associated with it, and this synopsis is far from exhaustive. Even with a period of three years, it will take significant resources to investigate many of these sub-topics and it is likely to require a blend of evidence from longitudinal, co-produced research with people with lived experience of gambling-related harms, account data and in-depth qualitative sources to gain a better understanding.

Example research questions within this theme

These are the type of questions that could be considered in relation to this theme:

  • Which individual circumstances (situations or demographics) increase vulnerability to gambling-related harms?
  • What’s the relationship between gambling-related harms and different co-morbidities?
  • What is the impact on ‘affected others’ (adults and children) of gambling-related harms?
  • What interventions are effective in reducing gambling-related harms?

Evidence theme 3 - What the Gambling Commission will focus on

To better understand gambling-related harms and vulnerability, the Commission will focus on:

  • using the Gambling Survey for Great Britain to produce robust statistics on who is experiencing gambling-related harms, and how
  • conducting qualitative research with consumers with experience of gambling-related harm
  • using our datasets and wider evidence to identify groups that may be at greater risk of harm.


10 Gambling-related harms evidence review: an abbreviated systematic review of harms (opens in new tab) (PDF), Public Health England, 2021.

11 The impact of gambling on depression: New evidence from England and Scotland (opens in new tab), Sefa A Churchill and L Farrell, Economic Modelling, volume 68, 2018, pages 475 to 483.

12 Intimate partner violence in treatment seeking problem gamblers (opens in new tab), Amanda Roberts, Stephen Sharman, Jason Landon, Sean Cowlishaw, Raegan Murphy, Stephanie Meleck and Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Journal of Family Violence, volume 35, 2020, pages 65 to 72.

13 Problem gambling and suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and non-suicidal self-harm in England: evidence from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007 (report 1) (opens in new tab) (PDF), Heather Wardle, Simon Dymond, Ann John, Sally McManus, report prepared for GambleAware, 2019.

14 Gambling-related harms evidence review: risk factors (opens in new tab) (PDF), Public Health England, 2021.

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Evidence theme 2 - The range and variability of gambling experiences
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Evidence theme 4 - The impact of operator practices
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