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Understanding women's experiences of gambling

Today marks International Women’s Day 2022, providing a moment to share what we know about women and gambling.

Posted 8 March 2022 by Communications

Historically, the gambling experiences of women have been somewhat hidden amongst nationally representative statistics and high-level trends. It’s easy to revert to long-held assumptions about preferred activities and less frequent participation, but when we dive deeper we can get a much better understanding of what motivates women to gamble, how they engage with different products, and how gambling fits into their day to day lives.

Here, we use some of our core telephone survey data and qualitative consumer research, along with other recent studies, to explore how women gamble and the impact that their own or someone else’s gambling can have on them.

How do women engage with gambling?

Our latest participation data shows that nearly half (42%) of women have gambled in the last four weeks, predominantly on activities such as the National Lottery draws, other lotteries, scratchcards and bingo. Women aged 35-54 are most likely to gamble (32%), with slightly lower participation amongst younger and older age groups. Lotteries and scratchcards are universally popular, but younger women are also gambling privately with their friends, and playing fruit and slot machines in gaming centres and arcades.

“I don't gamble very much – just a bit of fun now and then. I’ll go to casino, bingo or the dogs maybe once a year. The odd arcade in summer” – Female gambler, aged 39.

We also know that online gambling is becoming increasingly popular amongst women of all ages (having increased by 8 percentage points between 2017 and 2021), particularly those aged over the age of 35. This is being driven in part by women switching from playing National Lottery draws in person, to playing them online. However, women are also beginning to engage in online gaming products.

Data analysed by NatCen and the University of Liverpool (opens in new tab) suggests that women who have online gambling accounts (for online slots, casino, bingo and instant win products), actually tend to play more often, for longer, and spend more than men.

“I often play online bingo at home in my lounge or my bedroom if the hubby is watching football. I use either my tablet or phone. If I haven't won with my £10 limit then I will come off the game for a couple of days. I play around two to three times a week.” Female gambler, aged 22.

What motivates women to gamble?

We know that online gambling products such as slots and casino games are often enjoyed by people who want to have some ‘me time’ and relax – whether it be in a break at work, or at the end of the day - however, there are lots of different reasons why people gamble. For many women, gambling provides an opportunity to be sociable and enjoy time with friends, with activities such as gambling at casinos, going to the bingo and playing machines in arcades providing the opportunity to gamble whilst having fun with others.

“Me and my best friend have a little routine since we were 18, we always go to the casino together. We start off doing our own thing on our favourite machines and then we pool our winnings and go on the roulette table.” Female gambler, aged 32.

However, gambling carries some risk and for many that is never too far from consideration.

“I have a love hate relationship with gambling. I have seen it cause a lot of problems, but I can see the benefit of it for entertainment. I feel everyone should be allowed to do it, but vulnerable people should be more protected.” – Female gambler, aged 26.

What do we know about gambling harms experienced by women?

Our latest prevalence data suggests that the problem gambling rate (using the mini-screen PGSI) is 0.2% amongst women, with the moderate and low risk rates at 0.9% and 1.4% respectively. The problem gambling and low risk rates are both lower than male counterparts, however in 2021 we have seen the moderate risk rate ‘balance out’, and the rates for men and women have become almost equal. We will be exploring the data further to understand why this might be.

It's important to note here that there have, for a while, been questions about the suitability of the tools that are being used to accurately measure and identify female problem gamblers and some have suggested that the statements covered by the PGSI may not be as effective for women as they are for men. This is a really important area that we’re working to better understand.

One way we are trying to unpick this issue is by improving our understanding of the broader harms that are caused by gambling, which will allow us to zoom in on what these experiences are like for women. From our early piloting of this work, we know that female gamblers are particularly likely to have experienced harms to their mental health, wellbeing and finances. A further dimension is the fact that women are also more likely to be experiencing harm as a result of someone else’s gambling rather than their own, with their relationships and financial security being affected.

These harms can often be hidden, and yet have serious and long-term impacts. Treatment and support is another area where an understanding of women’s own experiences is vital. GambleAware are currently exploring this in research conducted by IFF Research, the University of Bristol and GamCare’s Women’s Programme, the first phase (opens in new tab) of which recommended approaches to enable women to access support for gambling harms. GambleAware has also launched its first ever harms prevention campaign (opens in new tab) harms prevention campaign specifically aimed at women to help them to identify critical warning signs and seek support before gambling becomes harmful.

Moving forward

As an evidence-based regulator it is essential that the data we collect gives us the most accurate picture available of gambling behaviour. As we strive to improve the quality of our statistics, we are currently piloting a new survey methodology which will improve the robustness and timeliness of our participation and prevalence data.

If successful, we hope the survey will be rolled out on a continuous basis with a much larger sample size than our existing quarterly telephone survey. This will significantly enhance our ability to understand gambling behaviours amongst subgroups of the population, including women, and to enable to us to better tell the stories of their experiences and identify ways that we can improve regulation and reduce gambling harm.

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