An Investigation of the social impact of problem gambling in Wales

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The University of South Wales and a consortium of 5 Assembly Members jointly funded an investigation of the social impact of problem gambling in Wales. The research consisted of 4 elements: an online survey to quantify the broader base of gambling in Wales; interviews with service providers; interviews with service users; and an evaluation of local density and availability of gambling outlets, including fixed odds machines. The findings from the 4 elements of this research corroborate and strengthen the observed patterns.

The negative social and health impacts of gambling are clear from the many personal accounts provided. These include personal struggles and despair, family breakdown, poverty and growing up with the threat of homelessness.

Gambling is a hidden problem in a number of ways:

- It carries stigma for both gambler and family, in a similar way to alcohol addiction, and certainly how the latter was viewed in the recent past. Individuals are very reluctant to admit to gambling problems. 

- The majority of people gamble alone, and the exponential increase in access to gambling via internet websites and phone and tablet apps increases the solitary nature of gambling, and the difficulties in computing actual prevalence. Alcohol consumption appears to exacerbate these factors.

-The lack of specialist services means that there are no databases of individuals with problem and dependent gambling. Proxy services where these individuals may present (e.g. debt and addiction services) do not, for the most part, screen for gambling problems, and there is no systematic identification of need. 

Particular types of gambling behaviour are of specific high risk for impaired control and problem gambling. These are using FOBTs at LBOs, and using internet and App gambling sites for both virtual gaming and sports event gambling.

FOBT issues are well documented, but internet and app platforms are increasing access to gambling due to the exponential increase in smart phone and tablet computers across Wales. These technological changes are leading to change in social regulation of gambling as a public behaviour, as well as facilitating targeted and unregulated advertising to potentially vulnerable individuals. Trends indicate that these may include older adults and underage children.

The gambling industry appears to target the vulnerable. The location of LBO clusters in relation to deprived geographical areas is clear. Aspirational advertising that creates false hope could be disproportionately effective in these parts of Wales. The importance of coping as a motivation to gamble identified in the current study lends support to this. 

There are a number of parallels with the Alcohol Industry:

- As a legal activity, where there appears to be a continuum from ‘normal’ or harm free use to addiction and dependence, and where establishing the line of ‘potential harm’ can be difficult; 

- As a condition which attracts feelings of stigma for both user and loved ones, which is a barrier to seeking support; 

- As a behaviour where those with problems present at proxy services (e.g. alcohol problems at A&E departments; gambling problems in Debt Agencies), and where there is resistance by professionals to rolling out formal screening due to skill and resource considerations.  

A number of areas of future research are identified:

- Additional research is needed to establish if the trends in this preliminary study reflect an actual increase in gambling risk behaviour, and whether there is a relationship between any changing patterns and increasing access to internet and smart phone gambling opportunities in the Welsh population.

- A wider systematic study of online gambling, the impact of technology and the effect personalised advertising on Apps and tablets is needed. 

- There are a number of important and related questions in relation to harm prevention and treatment development, including the potential for systematic screening for gambling problems in proxy services, and the development of early interventions to prevent and reduce gambling harm. 

- There are important questions raised as to the effects of the density and availability of LGOs on the local and wider community.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationPontypridd
PublisherUniversity of South Wales
Commissioning bodyWelsh Assmebley Members Consortium
Number of pages97
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2017


  • Gambling
  • addiction
  • problem gambling
  • Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)
  • Licensed Gambling Outlets (LGOs)
  • Wales
  • public health issue
  • drinking and drug misuse
  • social harm


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