Problem gambling may only affect a minority of players. But its impact is felt much more widely, affecting the individuals, their families, and in some cases their wider communities, when addiction takes hold.
The gambling industry establishment has been increasingly proactive in tackling the problem over the last few years, working in conjunction with charities and third sector organisations to highlight the risks for vulnerable gamblers and to address those with recognised gambling issues.
And according to a report from Germany, this combined approach looks to be paying off. The Drug and Addiction Report 2017 highlighted a decline in the number of respondents identifying as problem gamblers, as part of a broader downward trend in the problem.
The survey is published every two years by the Drug Commissioner of the Federal Government, and primarily examines substance addictions. However, the report dedicates a five-page segment to gambling issues, which contains the bulk of the most interesting findings from their survey.
Some 11,500 respondents were involved in the survey, with over 37% having gambled at some point in the previous year. In and of itself, this figure is interesting, reflecting a dramatic decline on the same question since 2007. In 2007, 55% of respondents had gambled over the period, down to 40.2% in the last report.
Respondents who said they had gambled in the year were given a further set of questions, specifically drilling down into their gambling behaviour. Three or four ‘yeses’ to the additional questions qualified as a problem gambler, while five or more was considered to be a ‘pathological gambler’.
The figures for problem gamblers and pathological gamblers came out at 0.42% and 0.37% respectively – tiny figures, relative to those experiencing addiction issues with substances, as an example.
The 2013 report reflected 0.69% and 0.82% on the same criteria, a single year jump in an otherwise consistently downward trend. Of particular note has been the dramatic drop off in female problem gamblers, falling from 0.31% to 0.07%, with pathological gamblers remaining static.
Amongst men, the rates have shown similar dramatic drop offs, from 1.32% to 0.68%, and from 1.16% to 0.66% in the case of pathological gamblers, respectively.
The report doesn’t distinguish between different types of gambling or gaming preferences, nor does it drill down further into specific demographics that might be relevant. Nevertheless, the figures represent a welcome trend for an industry which is so often on the receiving end of criticism over the problem gambling issue.
A small increase in the rate of problem gambling in the UK has been coupled with a slew of negative media articles, exaggerating the scale and impact of the problem as part of an emerging anti-gambling sentiment in some quarters of the UK press.
Yet as the picture in Germany shows, these issues, while very real, represent a small minority of gamblers. While problem gambling is clearly very serious and shouldn’t be underestimated, it is surely important to keep the issue in perspective – especially when formulating policy for the millions of ordinary, non-problem gamblers.
Restrictive regulatory approaches are almost always crafted around the narrative of protecting problem gamblers. While valid concerns, these fail to address the positive, proactive work being undertaken by the industry, not to mention the majority of responsible gamblers so often caught up in these restrictions.
For policy makers, it should be more important to make sensible policy rather than knee-jerk judgements. Hopefully the German figures are representative of wider trends in the gambling industry long-term, as awareness, self-exclusion, and other industry mechanics to tackle the problem take effect.