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Photo of Commission head of research, Laura Balla alongside the blog post title

Building our evidence base on gambling-related harm and vulnerability

Our Head of Research, Laura Balla, talks through our work to improve our understanding of gambling-related harm and vulnerability, through the development of new questions which form part of the Gambling Survey for Great Britain.

Posted 11 April 2024 by Laura Balla

A key part of the Commission’s job is to protect children and vulnerable persons from gambling-related harm through effective and enforced regulatory requirements. To do this well, we need to have a strong understanding of what gambling-related harm is, how and when it manifests, and for whom. That is why one of our six evidence themes focuses on gambling-related harms and vulnerability, and why this was a focus at our recent Spring Conference where we shared an update on our work in this area.

Historically, the evidence base on the impacts of gambling has been dominated by the use of trusted screening instruments such as the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI). However, discourse in recent years has expanded to recognise the wider harms that can be caused by gambling, and negative impacts that may affect gamblers themselves or others. Whilst the PGSI is a robust measure of those experiencing difficulties or problems with their gambling, it is limited in helping us to understand the associated negative impacts that both gamblers and others may experience. Use of the PGSI in isolation has also led to a reliance on headline statistics which, whilst an important part of the picture, are only one limited perspective and can lead us to overlook the extent and diversity of people’s experiences and stifle intelligent debate on the causes and mitigations of gambling harms.

One framework for understanding gambling-related harms and broadening our evidence base was developed by Wardle et al. in 2018. This study defined gambling-related harms as “the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society”. Harms were grouped into three core domains: resources, relationships and health. With this framework in mind, our aim has been to develop new survey questions to build a better understanding of the wider impacts that people may experience because of their own or someone else’s gambling, going beyond the limited insight provided by the PGSI.

It has never been our intention to develop a headline score or psychometric scale of gambling-harms. The wider impacts of gambling are varied and diverse and to develop a single measure or scale would be extremely challenging, and the results would likely be less useful when applied to our regulatory and policy work. Instead, the new questions will give us insight into the range of experiences and associated trends that different consumers are having and allow us to explore the nuance and complexity of the impacts of gambling in a way that we cannot do if we only use the PGSI.

The new questions have gone through various phases of development over the last few years before ultimately being included as core questions in our new Gambling Survey for Great Britain (GSGB). This was important, as we wanted to take our time to make sure that we were producing questions that were effective in capturing negative impacts, were reliable, and which gave us representation across the three domains of harm outlined in the Wardle et al. (2018) framework. We were also keen to make sure that the questions were asked on a robust and sustainable survey vehicle, which the GSGB provides. We have shared our progress along the way in a series of updates in our development of the GSGB timeline, and we will be publishing a full technical report outlining the approach taken to develop the questions alongside the first release of the new data in the first annual GSGB report due to be published in July.

What became clear during the development of the questions was that there were differences in the severity of some of the issues that were being considered. Going forward we will be treating items that are unquestionably more severe, such as bankruptcy, relationship breakdown and committing a crime, separately to what we are terming ‘other negative consequences’. The new survey will also allow us to explore the relationship between PGSI and the wider impacts of gambling for the first time. We will, however, need to take care with our use of language, and will be engaging with our Lived Experience Advisory Panel as we approach the first publication to ensure that the findings are being articulated sensitively and without stigma. The new findings will also be positioned in a separate chapter of the report covering the impact of gambling, to also include people’s motivations for and enjoyment of gambling.

As with all research of this nature, it is likely that further refinements may be needed to continue to develop this part of the evidence base in the future. However, this new body of evidence, and the ability we will have to start uncovering trends as the GSGB continues, will present a big step forward in filling evidence gaps around the impacts of gambling, and provide a better evidence base on which to focus our work to make gambling safer for all.

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