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Qualitative follow-up interviews with participants from the Gambling Survey Experimental Phase

We have refined new survey questions aimed at collecting better data on the experience of gambling-related harms in the upcoming Gambling Survey for Great Britain.

Executive summary

Research aims and methods

This qualitative research aimed to support interpretation of survey data captured on gambling-related harms, through follow-up interviews with participants who took part in the Gambling Survey for Great Britain (GSGB) Experimental Statistics Phase. Gambling-related harms are defined as adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. These harms impact people’s resources, relationships and health.1

The GSGB Experimental Statistics Phase piloted new survey questions about gambling harms, including harms related to own gambling and harms related to someone else’s gambling. Some survey participants were asked to respond to the harms questions on a binary scale (response options: ‘yes’ or ‘no’), while others were asked to respond on a four-point scale (response options: ‘never’, ‘occasionally’, ‘fairly often’ and ‘very often’).2

This research sought to better understand:

  • how participants understood and applied the response option ‘occasionally’ in the survey when answering questions about their experience of gambling-related harms
  • how different gambling-related harms interrelate.

This report presents findings from 16 in-depth, qualitative interviews with people who took part in the survey and had experienced gambling-related harms. Interviews took place in June and July 2023, were conducted over the telephone or Microsoft Teams, transcribed and analysed to identify themes.

Overview of the impacts of gambling on participants in this research

Participants discussed positive and negative impacts of their own gambling and/or the gambling of others (family, friends or partners) but tended to focus on gambling-related harms rather than the positive elements of their experience. It should be noted that participants were chosen for this research due to their experience of gambling-related harm. Therefore, this group may be more likely to highlight the negative impacts of gambling compared to people who have experienced less or no harm. Participants did not describe any impacts neutrally. Even where impacts were small and infrequent participants felt there was some effect on their lives. While this research focuses on gambling-related harms, the GSGB will cover wider impacts of gambling and motivations for gambling behaviours.

Financial impacts of gambling were a common experience for participants in this research. Financial impacts related to someone’s own gambling ranged from occasional instances of cutting back on non-essential spending (such as social events) to losing a home due to failure to pay the mortgage. Some participants with friends or family members who gambled were also financially impacted, usually because they had lent money to someone who had incurred gambling losses. While some of these participants were minimally impacted or only felt ‘annoyance’, these loans required others to reduce their own spending, incur debt or other negative financial consequences.

Participants impacted by their own or someone else’s gambling also experienced impacts on their relationships and/or social life and wellbeing. While some participants who gambled felt it could be a fun social activity, this group also experienced conflict related to gambling and negative feelings due to having concealed gambling and/or losses from people close to them. Participants impacted by their own and/or someone else’s gambling suffered from stress, anxiety and feelings of isolation.

Use of the response ‘occasionally’ in the experimental phase survey

Participants described ‘occasional’ harms using a variety of frequencies, ranging from the harm being experienced multiple times per month, to the harm being experienced once in the year. There was also variation in the ways in which these harms impacted participants’ lives. While some participants felt minimal impacts from ‘occasional’ harms, there were also examples of more serious impacts.

Despite differences between participants in their interpretation of ‘occasional’ harms, they generally interpreted the response options consistently across different questions and there were no clear patterns related to participants responding to certain survey questions differently.

Use of the ‘occasionally’ option covered harms that occurred with some regularity, but which the participant did not consider frequent or serious enough to be covered by the ‘fairly often’ response. However, participants expressed different views about what level of frequency and seriousness should be considered ‘occasional’. These perceptions were informed by a number of factors, including earlier experiences of gambling harms, proximity to harm and circumstances at the time of completing the survey.

Harms which were very infrequent were also captured under the ‘occasionally’ option because this was the lowest frequency of harm available to select. Some participants experiencing this level of harm felt that an additional response option between ‘never’ and ‘occasionally’ (for example, ‘rarely’) may have more accurately captured their experience.

In some cases, participants were clear that ‘occasional’ experience of a harm was less impactful than a harm experienced ‘fairly or very often’. Many participants had experienced gambling harms over a long period of time and were able to point to more difficult times in their lives when they would have defined harms as occurring ‘fairly or very often’.

Some ‘occasional’ harms discussed by participants had very minimal impacts on their lives, perhaps causing only some ‘annoyance’ or ‘frustration’ which affected them for a short amount of time. However, in some cases the frequency of the harm did not determine the impact. Harms which occurred ‘occasionally’ could have significant impacts if the level of harm was particularly high. Examples discussed by participants included irregular loaning of meaningful sums of money and consistently concealing gambling activities from people close to them through ‘occasional’ lies. This could lead to situations where, although the direct harm did not happen frequently, the effect could be significant and enduring.

Participants described a range of ways that harms interrelated, including similar types of harm being connected (for example, one financial harm leading to another financial harm) and the interrelation of different types of harm (for example, financial harm leading to relationship harm). Participants who had been impacted by someone else’s gambling experienced similar patterns of harms as those affected by their own gambling activity. Participants identified a number of relationships between gambling-related harms:

  • one harm leading to another harm
  • one harm leading to multiple harms
  • circular relationships between harms
  • harms taking place simultaneously.

Participants also expressed that gambling harms do not exist in a vacuum, separate to other experiences in their lives. Experiences of harm were impacted by and related to external factors (for example, mental health or financial situation) and in many cases participants found it difficult to disentangle the impacts of these factors from the impacts of gambling harm.


Analysis and interpretation of the survey data

Gambling-related harms are defined as the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. Participants tended to express that experience of an ‘occasional’ harm was negative or adverse in some way, even where they felt the impacts were very minimal. Therefore, in line with the definition, it is clear that the ‘occasional’ response is capturing gambling-related harms.

However, in some limited cases the language used by participants to describe impacts (for example, “not significant”) could suggest that no harm has been experienced. In this research, these examples related to reducing spending on non-essential everyday purchases.

It should be acknowledged that the ‘occasional’ responses tend to involve some degree of harm. However, when presenting the data it will also be important to note that ‘occasional’ responses capture a range of impacts, with some being very minimal while others are more severe.

In some cases, participants said it was worse to experience a harm ‘fairly or very often’ than ‘occasionally’. However, ’occasional’ harms can be worse if they have significant or long-term impacts. It is important to distinguish between the frequency and impact of harms. An ‘occasional’ harm can be worse if it's impact is high.

Future quantitative data collection

If more detailed quantitative data collection is considered helpful for future surveys, the Gambling Commission could consider adding an additional option to capture very infrequent harms (for example, ‘rarely’), using specific defined frequencies in harms questions and/or including measures to capture the impacts of different frequencies of harms. Participants also highlighted the possibility of incorporating more measures of wellbeing or emotion (for example, anxiety or frustration) to fully understand the direct and long-term impacts of gambling-related harms.

Future qualitative data collection

Reflecting on their own experiences, participants described the impacts of gambling-related harms as difficult to measure. This was because harms were interrelated, often long-term and it could be hard to disentangle impacts related to gambling and other causes. This emphasises the importance of continued qualitative research to support interpretation (and give depth to) quantitative findings about gambling-related harms.

Minimising the time period between survey collection and follow-up interviews would aid this process, to help with participant recall. More interactive forms of qualitative research (such as diary studies or use of visual aids) could also help participants to make connections between different harms and discuss how these come together in their lived experience.


1Heather Wardle, Gerda Reith, David Best, David McDaid and Stephen Platt (2018). Measuring Gambling-related harms: a framework for action. Gambling Commission, Birmingham, UK.

2Developing survey questions to collect better data on gambling-related harms.

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