Perhaps the biggest surprise of the newly released 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey was just how little had changed on the UK gambling front since the last study was conducted in 1999. Although the opportunities for the UK's population to gamble have increased dramatically, both publicly and on the Internet, many of the key prevalence statistics were virtually unchanged. The percentage of the population that had participated in gambling has actually declined slightly from 72% in 1999 to 68% in 2007. Gambling industry pundits were nervously awaiting the statistics on problem gambling, fearing a potential public backlash over an increase. They apparently had little to fear as the two accepted measures for the prevalence of problem gambling remained essentially flat.
In a new set of questions added for this year's survey, the general population had a negative bias toward gambling and thought it was more harmful than beneficial for individuals and society and shouldn't be encouraged. However, the average respondent also felt that people had a right to gamble and rejected a policy of total prohibition.
A gambling-related issue that has emerged since the report's release is one only peripherally tied to the survey itself. The survey cited that 6% of the survey population had participated in one or more forms of online gaming. Although not specifically measured in the 1999 survey, it is assumed that online gambling reflects a growing segment of the gambling population and one poised to further increase with the recent regulatory change allowing online gambling companies to advertise in the UK.
Up until now, gambling firms have made voluntary "problem gambling" related contributions; funding gambling research, treatment and public education. While the UK's Culture Minister Gerry Sutcliff is evaluating a possible mandatory contribution, critics point out that the UK won't be able to collect from the fastest growing segment of the industry. While online gambling companies are allowed to advertise and operate in the UK, they do not have to be licensed or regulated in the UK.
"The biggest growth in problem gambling is on the newer types of gambling, left virtually untouched by the new legislation." said Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Culture Minister. "He has liberalized gambling advertising, and in his last budget created a fiscal environment that massively deterred overseas-registered sites from registering in the UK."
The 2007 survey was performed by the National Centre for Social Research and was conducted on behalf of the UK Gaming Commission, who with the passage of the 2005 Gambling Act has the responsibility to "advise the Secretary of State on the prevalence, nature, and effects of gambling." The timing of the survey was chosen to provide a benchmark just prior to the enactment of the 2005 Gambling Act. Another survey, planned for 2009-2010, will measure the effects of the new legislation.