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Place your bets: Has problem gambling in Great Britain decreased?

In the summer of 2014 I was commissioned to review problem gambling in Great Britain (the fall out of which I wrote about in detail in a previous blog). Earlier last year, a detailed report by Heather Wardle and her colleagues examined gambling behaviour in England and Scotland by combining the 2012 data from the Health Survey for England (HSE; n=8,291 aged 16 years and over) and the 2012 Scottish Health Survey (SHeS; n=4,815). To be included in the final data analysis, participants had to have completed at least one of the gambling participation questions. This resulted in a total sample of 11,774 participants. So what did the research find? Here is a brief summary of the main results:

  • Two-thirds of the sample (65%) had gambled in the past year, with men (68%) gambling more than women (62%). As with the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS), past year participation was greatly influenced by the playing of the bi-weekly National Lottery (lotto) game. Removal of those individuals that only played the National Lottery meant that 43% had gambled during the past year (46% males and 40% females).
  • Gambling was more likely to be carried out by younger people (50% among those aged 16-24 years and 52% among those aged 25-34 years).
  • The findings were similar to the previous BGPS reports and showed that the most popular forms of gambling were playing the National Lottery (52%; 56% males and 49% females), scratchcards (19%; 19% males and 20% females), other lottery games (14%; 14% both males and females), horse race betting (10%; 12% males and 8% females), machines in a bookmaker (3%; 5% males and 1% females), slot machines (7%; 10% males and 4% females), online betting with a bookmaker (5%; 8% males and 2% females), offline sports betting (5%; 8% males and 1% females), private betting (5%; 8% males and 2% females), casino table games (3%; 5% males and 1% females), offline dog race betting (3%; 4% males and 2% females), online casino, slots and/or bing (3%; 4% males and 2% females), betting exchanges (1%; males 2% and females 0%), poker in pubs and clubs (1%; 2% males and 0% females), spread betting (1%; 1% males and 0% females).
  • The only form of gambling (excluding lottery games) where females were more likely to gamble was playing bingo (5%; 7% females and 3% males).
  • Most participants gambled on one or two different activities a year (1.7 mean average across the total sample).
  • Problem gambling assessed using the Problem Gambling Severity (PGSI) criteria was reported to be 0.4%, with males (0.7%) being significantly more likely to be problem gamblers than females (0.1%). This equates to approximately 180,200 British adults aged 16 years and over.
  • Problem gambling assessed using the criteria of the fourth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) was reported to be 0.5%, with males (0.8%) being significantly more likely to be problem gamblers than females (0.1%). This equates to approximately 224,100 British adults aged 16 years and over.
  • Using the PGSI screen, problem gambling rates were highest among young men aged 16-24 years (1.7%) and lowest among men aged 65-74 years (0.4%). Using the DSM-IV screen, problem gambling rates were highest among young men aged 16-24 years (2.1%) and lowest among men aged over 74 years (0.4%).
  • Problem gambling rates were also examined by type of gambling activity. Results showed that among past year gamblers, problem gambling was highest among spread betting (20.9%), played poker in pubs or clubs (13.2%), bet on other events with a bookmaker (12.9%), bet with a betting exchange (10.6%) and played machines in bookmakers (7.2%).
  • The activities with the lowest rates of problem gambling were playing the National Lottery (0.9%) and scratchcards (1.7%).
  • Problem gambling rates were highest among individuals that had participated in seven or more activities in the past year (8.6%) and lowest among those that had participated in a single activity (0.1%).

The authors also carried out a latent class analysis and identified seven different types of gambler among both males and females. The male groups comprised:

  • Cluster A: non-gamblers (33%)
  • Cluster B: National Lottery only gamblers (22%)
  • Cluster C: National Lottery and scratchcard gamblers only (20%)
  • Cluster D: Minimal, no National Lottery [gambling on 1-2 activities] (9%)
  • Cluster E: Moderate [gambling on 3-6 activities] (12%)
  • Cluster F: Multiple [gambling on 6-10 activities] (3%)
  • Cluster G: multiple, high [gambling on at least 11 activities] (1%).

The female groups comprised:

  • Cluster A: non-gamblers (40%)
  • Cluster B: National Lottery only gamblers (21%)
  • Cluster C: National Lottery and scratchcard gamblers only (7%)
  • Cluster D: Minimal, no National Lottery (8%)
  • Cluster E: moderate, less varied [2-3 gambling activities, mainly lottery-related] (8%)
  • Cluster F: moderate, more varied [2-3 gambling activities but wider range of activities] (6%)
  • Cluster G: multiple [gambling on at least four activities] (6%)

Using these groupings, the prevalence of male problem gambling was highest among those in Cluster G: multiple high group (25.0%) followed by Cluster F: multiple group (3.3%) and Cluster E: moderate group (2.6%). The prevalence of problem gambling was lowest among those in the Cluster B; National Lottery Draw only group (0.1%) followed by Cluster C: minimal – lotteries and scratchcards group (0.7%). The prevalence of female problem gambling was highest among those in the Cluster G: multiple group (1.8%) followed by those in Cluster F: moderate – more varied group (0.6%). The number of female gamblers was too low to carry out any further analysis. The report also examined problem gambling (either DSM-IV or PGSI) by gambling activity type.

  • The prevalence of problem gambling was highest among spread-bettors (20.9%), poker players in pubs or clubs (13.2%), bettors on events other than sports or horse/dog races (12.9%), betting exchange users (10.6%) and those that played machines in bookmakers (7.2%).
  • The lowest problem gambling prevalence rates were among those that played the National Lottery (0.9%) and scratchcards (1.7%).
  • These figures are very similar to those found in the 2010 BGPS study although problem gambling among those that played machines in bookmakers was lower (7.2%) than in the 2010 BGPS study (8.8%).
  • As with the BGPS 2010 study, the prevalence of problem gambling was highest among those who had participated in seven or more activities in the past year (8.6%) and lowest among those who had taken part in just one activity (0.1%). Furthermore, problem gamblers participated in an average 6.6 activities in the past year.

Given that the same instruments were used to assess problem gambling, the results of the most recent surveys using data combined from the Health Survey for England (HSE) and Scottish Health Survey (SHeS) compared with the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) do seem to suggest that problem gambling in Great Britain has decreased over the last few years (from 0.9% to 0.5%). However, Seabury and Wardle again urged caution and noted:

“Comparisons of the combined HSE/SHeS data with the BGPS estimates should be made with caution. While the methods and questions used in each survey were the same, the survey vehicle was not. HSE and SHeS are general population health surveys, whereas the BGPS series was specifically designed to understand gambling behaviour and attitudes to gambling in greater detail. It is widely acknowledged that different survey vehicles can generate different estimates using the same measures because they can appeal to different types of people, with varying patterns of behaviour…Overall, problem gambling rates in Britain appear to be relatively stable, though we caution readers against viewing the combined health survey results as a continuation of the BGPS time series”.

There are other important caveats to take into account including the differences between the two screen tools used in the BGPS, HSE and SHeS studies. Although highly correlated, evidence from all the British surveys suggests that the PGSI and DSM-IV screens capture slightly different groups of problem gamblers. For instance, a 2010 study that I co-authored with Jim Orford, Heather Wardle, and others (in the journal International Gambling Studies) using data from the 2007 BGPS showed that the PGSI may under-estimate certain forms of gambling-related harm (particularly by women) that are more likely to be picked up by some of the DSM-IV items. Our analysis also suggested that the DSM-IV appears to measure two different factors (i.e., gambling-related harm and gambling dependence) rather than a single one. Another important distinction is that the two screens were developed for very different purposes (even though they are attempting to assess the same construct). The PGSI was specifically developed for use in population surveys whereas the DSM-IV was developed with clinical populations in mind. Given these differences, it is therefore unsurprising that national surveys that utilize the screens end up with slightly different results comprising slightly different groups of people.

It also needs stressing (as noted by the authors of most of the national gambling surveys in Great Britain) that the absolute number of problem gamblers identified in any of the surveys published to date has equated to approximately 60 people. To detect any significant differences statistically between any of the studies carried out to date requires very large sample sizes. Given the very low numbers of problem gamblers and the tiny number of pathological gamblers, it is hard to assess with complete accuracy whether there have been any significant changes in problem and pathological gambling between all the published studies over time. Wardle and her colleagues concluded that:

“Overall, based on this evidence, it appears that problem gambling rates in England and Scotland are broadly stable. Whilst problem gambling rates according to either the DSM-IV or the PGSI were higher in 2010, the estimate between 2007 and the health surveys data were similar. Likewise, problem gambling rates according to the DSM-IV and the PGSI individually did not vary statistically between surveys, meaning that they were relatively similar” (p.130).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Problem gambling in Great Britain: A brief review. London: Association of British Bookmakers.

Orford, J., Wardle, H., Griffiths, M.D., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2010). PGSI and DSM-IV in the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey: Reliability, item response, factor structure and inter-scale agreement. International Gambling Studies, 10, 31-44.

Seabury, C. & Wardle, H. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Wardle, H. (2013). Gambling Behaviour. In Rutherford, L., Hinchliffe S., Sharp, C. (Eds.), The Scottish Health Survey: Vol 1: Main report. Edinburgh.

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011). British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle, H., & Seabury, C. (2013). Gambling Behaviour. In Craig, R., Mindell, J. (Eds.) Health Survey for England 2012 [Vol 1]. Health, social care and lifestyles. Leeds: Health and Social Care Information Centre.

Wardle, H., Seabury, C., Ahmed, H., Payne, C., Byron, C., Corbett, J. & Sutton, R. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland: Findings from the Health Survey for England 2012 and Scottish Health Survey 2012. London: NatCen.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M. D., Constantine, R., & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: National Centre for Social Research.

Wardle, H., Sutton, R., Philo, D., Hussey, D. & Nass, L. (2013). Examining Machine Gambling in the British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Report by NatCen to the Gambling Commission, Birmingham.

War of the Words: Campaign for Fairer Gambling still gambling with people’s reputations

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFFG) yesterday responded to my article in which I outlined the potentially libellous comments made by CFFG spokesperson Adrian Parkinson. Here’s my brief response to what was said and alleged in yesterday’s CFFG’s article.

“Supposed academic”: In my previous blog I noted that Parkinson had claimed that I was only a “supposed academic” and that I believed this to be false and deliberately malicious. The CFFG now concedes in their article that I am not only an academic but a “decorated” one. However, no apology was given. They then go onto claim:

“Using the term ‘supposed’ does not impact that general point. However, when conducting certain industry funded projects, it is right to question whether these are being conducted on an academic, commercial or egotistical basis. It is supposed that they are conducted on an academic basis”

Firstly, Parkinson clearly used the word “supposed” in an attempt to slur and denigrate my research and reputation. Parkinson could have written the same tweet without the word “supposed” and the meaning and emphasis of what he said would have been different. I found Parkinson’s use of the word both offensive and demeaning. If someone claimed in an article that Parkinson was a “supposed campaign consultant”, anyone reading that would probably assume that the person writing it was trying to make a point that he is not worthy of being a campaign consultant. (For the record, I am well aware that Parkinson is the CFFG’s campaign consultant and would not sink to the level of calling him a “supposed campaign consultant”). The CFFG says the use of the word “supposed” does not impact on their general points made about me. That is irrelevant. The word “supposed” in and of itself was used in a potentially libellous way. It doesn’t take away from my point that the use of the word “supposed” in this context was hurtful, malicious, and without foundation. Secondly – and for the record – all of my work is conducted for academic reasons. Any insinuation otherwise is again untrue and potentially libellous.

“Defender of FOBTs”: In my response to Parkinson’s claim that I am “industry funded defender of FOBTs” I pointed out in my previous article that I’ve only ever written one public article on the topic (a blog I wrote in 2013). The CFFG response to this was to separate out the “funded” and the “defender of FOBTs” in an attempt to justify the claims made. If not being anti-FOBTs in my one blog on this issue counts as being a defender of FOBTs, then so be it. However, my objection was the use of the combined term “industry funded defender of FOBTs” because I am not. There is a world of difference between an academic having independently carried out a few consultancy projects for the gaming industry and being industry funded. Using the CFFG’s criterion why haven’t they called me Gambling Commission-funded or British Academy-funded or ESRC-funded?  The reason is that it doesn’t suit the picture they are trying to paint.

My personal views are not (and never have been) funded by anyone. In my previous article I provided a detailed account showing that my research is not industry-funded and that out of the 1500+ articles and papers I have published not a single one of those had been about FOBTs. I have now published over 500 blogs in addition to those 1500+ other articles and only one of these is on the topic of FOBTs. Not a single one these articles has been funded by the industry. One of the reasons I am not anti-FOBTs is because we now live in a society that anyone with internet access via computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone has access to FOBT-type games at their fingertips. Basically, if you own a smart phone, you are walking around with a potential bookmaker in your pocket. On this basis, singling out FOBTs in licenced bookmakers to be banned has no equity at all.

“Industry funded”: Again, I will make the point that having ever received money from the gaming industry for independent consutancy and being “industry-funded” are two very different things. Being ‘industry funded’ suggests everything someone does is paid for by the industry. Based on the article published yesterday, one of the CFFG’s main concerns about my academic activity appears to be that one of my consultancies was a social responsibility assessment for Paddy Power. As I mentioned in my article about Parkinson’s potentially libellous tweets, I’ve written around 150 consultancy reports on social responsibility and responsible gambling and I can indeed confirm that one of my consultancy clients has been Paddy Power. The report I wrote for them covered a number of areas (most notably, crime and gambling, social responsibility in gambling, and underage gambling). Paddy Power paid my university for my time spent writing this independent report (as all monies are paid to them and not me personally) and for my appearance as an expert witness. As an independent expert witness, I have to follow all judicial protocol. In all expert witness work I follow the protocol outlined by the Civil Justice Council. The most relevant extracts are in Sections 4.1 and 4.3:

“Experts always owe a duty to exercise reasonable skill and care to those instructing them, and to comply with any relevant professional code of ethics. However when they are instructed to give or prepare evidence for the purpose of civil proceedings in England and Wales they have an overriding duty to help the court on matters within their expertise…This duty overrides any obligation to the person instructing or paying them. Experts must not serve the exclusive interest of those who retain them…Experts should provide opinions which are independent, regardless of the pressures of litigation. In this context, a useful test of ‘independence’ is that the expert would express the same opinion if given the same instructions by an opposing party. Experts should not take it upon themselves to promote the point of view of the party instructing them or engage in the role of advocates”.

Again, there is nothing in the independent report I wrote for Paddy Power that I am an “industry funded defender of FOBTs” (as there was little in my report on FOBTs). In the article published yesterday, the CFFG also claimed

“Griffiths produced a flawed critique of a paper by Steve Sharman on the strong link between problem gamblers and the homeless. Westminster Council used the Sharman paper to support the refusal of a Paddy Power license. Griffiths did not contact Sharman prior to publishing his criticism, which is against academic etiquette. He also did not identify that he has a commercial relationship with Paddy Power in his attack on Sharman”.

I’m not sure in what way the CFFG thinks my critique of the study carried out by Sharman and his colleagues was “flawed” (they didn’t say) but for the record (i) the critique I wrote has been published in the Journal of Gambling Studies (JGS), (ii) I did email Sharman (and his colleagues) about my critique, and (iii) I sent Sharman and his colleagues a copy of my published critique (so that they could pen a response to the JGS if they so wished). I am not sure what the CFFG mean when they say I have a “commercial relationship with Paddy Power”. If they mean that Paddy Power paid my university for my time spent writing my independent consultancy report, then that is true. If they mean that Paddy Power (and any of my clients) are paying me personally then that is false (as all consultancy money is paid to my employer – Nottingham Trent University – and not me personally).

“Dirty work for the ABB”: In Parkinson’s original tweets he said I was carrying out “dirty work” for the Association of British Bookmakers. Nothing in the response article by the CFFG actually defended their use of the term “dirty”. The CFFG may have the view that is morally wrong for someone like myself to do consultancy on social responsibility and responsible gambling with any organization connected with the gaming industry. They may simply not like the fact that a “decorated academic” like myself should have any working association with the gaming industry at all. But none of this is “dirty” or “dirty work”. The work I do is legitimate, legal, independent, and in accordance with all consultancy protocols. The assertion that the work I do is “dirty” is simply a slur on my reputation and was used in a context to again demean the work that I do. Again, taking the word “dirty” out of the tweet would have entirely changed the meaning. The CFFG then go on to assert: 

“Griffiths is evaluating a code of conduct which he has helped author in conjunction with the ABB – so he is evaluating his own work, which is again, against academic etiquette. A formal evaluation of the code of conduct is being conducted by Nat Cen. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling anticipate that this evaluation will be more critical of the – code of conduct than the Griffiths ‘self”-evaluation’.”

There are a number of issues here that are simply wrong. While I did input into the ABB code (and was proud to do so), it is in no way ‘my’ code or my “own work”. The ABB introduced some of the things into the new code that I wanted to see in it (most notably time and money setting tools, pop-up reminders, and mandatory breaks – based on our empirical research published in the Journal of Gambling Studies and the Journal of Gambling Issue – see ‘Further Reading below). My consultancy report on the how the new social responsibility tools were used by FOBT players in the first 15 weeks of operation is a commentary on the data and an evaluation in the loosest sense (i.e., the dictionary definition of the making of a judgement about the amount, number, or value of something”). The CFFG also state that “self-evaluation” is “against academic etiquette”. This is simply not true. Many (if not most) evaluations of anything published in the academic literature are self-evaluations of one description or another. For instance, gambling treatment interventions, gambling education programs, and gambling prevention programs are typically evaluated by the researcher or the research team that designed them.

“Doing what the industry tells me to do”: In Parkinson’s tweets, he claimed I simply do what the industry tells me to do. I said this was a ludicrous claim and the CFFG’s ‘evidence’ that I do has absolutely no foundation whatsoever. They say:

“In respect of FOBTs: through the misleading FOBT blog, the code of conduct, his appearance at court with Paddy Power, a willingness to attack an academic paper used by a council to act against Paddy Power, the Campaign Killer blog, and his willingness to attend an invitation only ABB event to promote the code of conduct, Griffiths is supporting the commercial interests of bookmakers. It is understandable that others believe he is sympathetic to the position of the bookmakers on FOBTs. After all, Griffiths knows all about the importance to his career of being able to attract funded research as he acknowledges in his ‘Campaign Killer’ blog”.

Absolutely nothing mentioned in the above paragraph provides any evidence that I “do what the industry tells me to do”. The writing of independent consultancy reports is not doing what the gaming industry tells me to do. My FOBT blog is not misleading. My critique of the gambling homelessness study is in the public domain and published in the world’s leading academic gambling journal (Journal of Gambling Studies). All the above paragraph demonstrates is that of the thousands of projects and activities that I have done in my career, a small minority have involved independent consultancy for a gaming company.

Further points: The CFFG article also makes some further points that I am happy to respond to. They claim that:

“In the last paragraph of his ‘Campaign Killer’ blog, Griffiths contradicts his previous FOBT blog in which he stated that banning FOBTs would result in an increase in remote gambling. He now states it would drive problem gambling underground. This change of FOBT defence is exactly the same change of FOBT defence used by the bookmakers. But there is no evidence to support either a switch to remote gambling or underground gambling through banning FOBTs or merely a FOBT stake reduction”

I haven’t changed or switched defence as the things I highlighted are not mutually exclusive. All I have dne is speculate that if gamblers cannot gamble on FOBTs because of a ban they would probably gamble elsewhere (e.g., illegal underground FOBT gambling, remote gambling, etc.). The CFFG then goes onto say:

“Most amazingly, Griffiths also claims that the principle of social responsibility includes “maximising fun for those who enjoy gambling”. This alleged component is not referred to in the 2005 Gambling Act and does not form part of the official remit of any of the relevant bodies – Department of Culture Media and Sport, the Gambling Commission, the Responsible Gambling Trust nor the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board. It is truly remarkable that Griffiths thinks he has the authority to advocate this definition”

The CFFG appear not to have realized that I have been writing about social responsibility in gambling for many years prior to the 2005 Gaming Act and to the formation of the Gambling Commission and the Gambling Strategy Board. My claim that social responsibility is about maximizing the fun for those that enjoy gambling and minimizing harm for those that are vulnerable comes from an article on social responsibility in gambling that I wrote in 2001 (you can download a copy from here where I mention this in the second paragraph). The Gambling Commission is under no obligation to use my views of what social responsibility is about. For me, one of the most important things about social responsibility is about getting the balance right. At its simplest level, my own view (in many of my social resposibility writings since 2001) has always tried to think how the non-problem gambler would react to having a prohibitions or restrictions placed upon them in an attempt to protect the most vulnerable. Finally, the CFFG talk about libel. They assert:

“The current standard of libel law relates to ‘substantial harm’ to a reputation whereas the prior standard related to a lesser standard of ‘harm’. Griffiths refers to being ‘previously vilified and criticized by the gaming industry’. It would be interesting to learn if Griffiths threatened the gambling industry with legal action under the lesser harm standard for that vilification”

In response to this question, I have only ever had to threaten legal action once as the majority of criticism I have received has been said without being libellous. This does not change my view that the tweets made by Parkinson are still potentially libellous.

I realize that the CFFG are likely to come back with yet another point-by-point retaliation but I am probably going to stop responding. I have done nothing wrong and I will simply have to accept that the CFFG will continue to smear my work. I have avoided the temptation of attacking their campaign philosophy and where they get their funding from as this has been written up by others. (If you are really interested in who funds the CFFG and why they do what they do, I suggest you check out this article by Mark Davies and the legal threats he then received – and this other article).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of online gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Good practice in the gaming industry: Some thoughts and recommendations. Panorama (European State Lotteries and Toto Association), 7, 10-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The relationship between gambling and homelessness: A commentary on Sharman et al (2014). Journal of Gambling Studies, DOI 10.1007/s10899-014-9491-0

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

Sharman, S., Dreyer, J., Aitken, M., Clark, L., & Bowden-Jones, H. (2014). Rates of problematic gambling in a British homeless sample: A preliminary study. Journal of Gambling Studies, DOI 10.1007/s10899-014-9444-7.

Campaign killer? Gambling with people’s reputations (revisited)

On Twitter last week, Adrian Parkinson of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (and the associated Stop The FOBTs campaign) posted a number of tweets about me (and my research). In the tweets, Parkinson said that (a) I am a “supposed academic”, (b) I am the “industry ‘funded’ defender of FOBTs” (fixed odds betting terminals), (c) I am “doing more dirty work” for the Association of British Bookmakers, and (d) I do “what the industry tells [me] to do”.

Parkinson Libel Tweets 2014

All of these assertions are untrue and potentially libellous. According to legal dictionaries, the official definition of libel is “to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others”. Based on this defintion, Parkinson’s tweets are potentially libellous and are definitely an attack on my professional integrity. This cannot go unchallenged so here are the facts of the matter in relation to the claims made.

  • “Supposed academic”: Obviously the assertion by Parkinson that I am a “supposed academic” is both false and deliberately malicious. An academic by most dictionary definitions is a teacher or scholar in a university or other institute of higher education”. As a professor employed at an English university, there is nothing “supposed” about my occupation or status. To add to this, I would point out that on the basis of my academic research and reputation I became of one of the UK’s youngest ever professors (aged 34 years). So far in my career, I have been awarded 14 national and/or international awards and prizes for my gambling research and research dissemination including three Fellowship awards (British Psychological Society, Royal Society of Arts, and the Academy of Social Sciences) and two Lifetime Achievement awards. I am also one of the most highly cited psychologists in the world (currently 17,500 citations on Google Scholar that you can check here).
  • “Industry funded’ defender of FOBTs”: Parkinson claimed that I am “funded defender” of FOBTs and the gambling industry. In my career to date, I have published approximately 460 academic peer reviewed journal papers (which most academics would describe as ‘prolific’ – and not bad for a “supposed academic”) and another 1000+ academic articles (in professional/practitioner journals, gambling trade press, newspapers, magazines, etc.). Of these 1500 or so papers and articles, none were funded by a research grant from the gaming industry. Two of the papers I have published – both concerning social responsibility in gambling initiatives – did arise out of gaming industry consultancy (one study was about gamblers’ attitudes toward the social responsibility tool PlayScan funded by Svenska Spel, and the other was the development of a new social responsibility tool for the gaming industry to use to protect vulnerable player funded by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation). Also, none of my published academic papers has ever been specifically about FOBTS. I have published a handful academic journal papers that have mentioned FOBTs in passing but all of those were papers based on data collected in the British Gambling Prevalence Surveys (of which I was one of the co-authors) and were funded by the Gambling Commission not the gambling industry. In 2008, I also wrote a report for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (again funded by the Gambling Commission) on high stake-high prize machines that included references to FOBTs. However, the only article I have ever published specifically on FOBTs was one of my previous blogs (which looked at FOBTS in relation to the BGPS findings). In short, the assertion that I am an “industry ‘funded’ defender of FOBTs” simply has no basis in truth whatsoever.
  • “Dirty work” for the Association of British Association of Bookmakers: Parkinson claimed I carry out “dirty work” for the ABB. In my academic career I have been a consultant in the area of responsible gambling for approximately 15 years and have written in the region of 150 consultancy reports. Of these reports, three have been for the Association of British Bookmakers. The first report (in June 2013) was evaluation and input into the new code of conduct concerning responsible gambling and player protection (and which I wrote about in a previous blog). I was invited to carry out this piece of work by Neil Goulden (Chairman of the UK’s Responsible Gambling Trust) specifically because of my reputation of being both totally independent and as someone that has been critical of the gambling industry on previous occasions in relation to social responsibility and player protection. More recently (July 2014), I was commissioned to carry out two further pieces of consultancy for the ABB. The first was a review of problem gambling in Great Britain and the second was a preliminary evaluation of the responsible gambling initiatives relating to the introduction of the ABB’s new Code of Conduct (both of which are being published today). All three pieces of consultancy that I have carried out for the ABB concerned player protection and responsible gambling. Far from being “dirty work” they are the very areas areas that are at the heart of almost all the research that I carry out into problem gambling.
  • “Doing what the industry tells me to do”: Of all the potentially libellous claims made about me by Parkinson, this is the one that is the most ludicrous. The main reason I was asked for my expertise in the first place by the ABB was because I have never been afraid to criticize the gaming industry when they have done something I believe to be wrong and/or socially irresponsible. Anyone who actually knows me and has followed my research career over the last three decades will tell you that the one common denominator is my absolute independence in anything that I do. For the best part of 15 years I was vilified and criticized by some members of the gaming industry because of my belief that vulnerable and susceptible people should be protected from the potential harms of gambling. When ‘social responsibility’ and ‘responsible gambling’ became important issues in gaining operating licenses, gaming companies soon started approaching me to help them develop their codes of conduct and player protection programs. In short, I have spent years telling the gambling industry what I think they should do to minimize problem gambling (not the other way around).

There are of course bigger issues here concerning research funding, and this is an issue on which I have published my own views (see ‘Further reading’ below). Parkinson’s incorrect and misguided comments about me appear to be based on the view that academics shouldn’t have any association whatsoever with the gambling industry. Unfortunately, this (in my opinion) is a blinkered view that will not help those that need it (i.e., vulnerable populations). Almost all of the ‘big name’ researchers in the gambling studies field have carried out research and/or consultancy funded by the gambling industry. When this happens it may call into question academic ‘independence’. However, industry funded research appears to be an increasing economic reality in many countries across the world. In the UK, the governmental philosophy of research funding relating to gambling is now ‘polluter pays’ (i.e., the UK government has said it will not fund research on gambling and that the industry will have to pay for such work itself). Although my own research is not industry funded, the current funding model is pushing researchers in the gambling field down such a route.

One researcher that I have published with (now retired from day-to-day university life) refuses to carry out research or consultancy if it is sponsored or funded by the gambling industry (even indirectly via the Responsible Gambling Trust because the money is accrued from voluntary donations by the gambling industry). Furthermore, he will not attend conferences that have gaming industry sponsorship and declines invitations to speak if they are held on gaming premises. Although laudable and highly principled, researchers who now want to pursue a research career in the gambling studies field will are likely to find that taking such principled actions will become a barrier to career enhancement.

Having been in the gambling studies field for nearly 30 years now, I feel very proud that over the last decade, some sectors of the gaming industry have now started to take the issue of social responsibility in gambling seriously. All the personal vitriol that I received for years from certain individuals working in the gaming industry appears (in retrospect) to have been worth it. My own view is that if those in the gambling industry are really serious about social responsibility, they need to sometimes work in partnership with researchers in the gambling studies field if the end goal is the same (i.e., protection of vulnerable individuals and minimization of problem gambling).

From my research, I have gotten to know people that have had gambling problems and that would like to ban slot machines (including FOBTs). This is highly unlikely to reduce gambling problems. We know that banning alcohol does not cure alcoholism. Similarly, banning gambling products will not solve the issue of problem gambling. It would only drive the activity underground. Most people that gamble (including myself) do not have a problem. The underlying principle of social responsibility is to maximize fun for those that enjoy gambling and minimize harm for those that may be vulnerable. Mr. Parkinson and his campaign have every right to express their views but what they say should have a basis in fact (rather than prejudice) and they definitely shouldn’t resort to questioning my reputation or research in the absence of the full facts.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham

Further reading

Adams P. J., Raeburn J., De Silva K. (2009). A question of balance: prioritizing public health responses to harm from gambling. Addiction, 104: 688–91.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Minimising harm from gambling: What is the gambling industry’s role? Addiction, 104, 696-697.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Impact of high stake, high prize gaming machines on problem gaming. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Gambling research and the search for a sustainable funding infrastructure. Gambling Research, 21(1), 28-32.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A. & Parke, J. (2009). Social responsibility tools in online gambling: A survey of attitudes and behaviour among Internet gamblers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 413-421.

Morrison, P. (2009). A new national framework for Australian gambling research: A discussion paper on the potential challenges and processes involved. Gambling Research, 21(1), 8-24.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.

Trends reunited: How has gambling changed? (Part 2)

Most of the changes outlined in my previous blog were things that I predicted would happen in various papers that I wrote in the 1990s. However, there are many things that I did not predict would be areas of growing interest and change. The most interesting (to me at least) include (i) the rise of online poker and betting exchanges, (ii) gender swapping online and the rise of female Internet gambling, (iii) emergence of new type(s) of problem gambling, (iv) increase in use of behavioural tracking data, and (v) technological help for problem gamblers.

Online poker and betting exchanges: Two of the fastest growing forms of online gambling are in the areas of online poker and online betting exchanges. I have speculated there are three main reasons for the growth in these two particular sectors. Firstly, they provide excellent financial value for the gambler. There is no casino house edge or bookmakers’ mark-up on odds. Secondly, gamblers have the potential to win because there is an element of skill in making their bets. Thirdly, gamblers are able to compete directly with and against other gamblers instead of gambling on a pre-programmed slot machine or making a bet on a roulette wheel with fixed odds. However, one of the potential downsides to increased competition is recent research highlighting that problem gamblers are significantly more likely to be competitive when compared to non-problem gamblers. My research unit has also speculated other factors that have aided the popularity of online poker. These include (i) social acceptability of this type of gambling, (ii) promotion through televised tournaments often with celebrity players, (iii) 24/7 availability, (iv) the relative inexpensiveness of playing, and (v) the belief that this is predominantly a game of skill that can be mastered.

Gender swapping and the rise in female Internet gambling: One study by my research unitreported the phenomenon of gender swapping in online poker players. More female players (20%) in our study reported swapping gender when playing compared to males (12%). Typical reasons that female participants gave as to why they did this were that they believed other males would not take them so seriously if they knew they were playing against a woman. It also gave them a greater sense of security as a lone woman in a predominantly male arena. Males and females clearly had different motivations for gender swapping. For males it was a tactical move to give them a strategic advantage. For females it was more about acceptance or privacy in what they perceived to be a male dominated environment. Similar findings have been reported in relation to online computer game playing. In more general terms, the apparent rise in female Internet gambling is most likely because the Internet is a gender-neutral environment. The Internet is seen as less alienating and stigmatising medium when compared to male-dominated environments such as casinos and betting shops. The most obvious example is online bingo where online gaming companies have targeted females to get online, socialise, and gamble.

Emergence of new type(s) of problem gambling: The emergence of new technologies has brought with it new media in which to gamble. As noted above, the rise of online poker has been one of the success stories for the online gaming industry. This rise has also led to more research in this area including some that suggests a different way of viewing problem gambling. For instance, research has suggested that online poker may be producing a new type of problem gambler where the main negative consequence is loss of time (rather than loss of money). This research has identified a group of problem gamblers who (on the whole) win more money than they lose. However, they may be spending excessive amounts of time (e.g., 12 to 14 hours a day) to do this. This could have implications for problem gambling criteria in the future (i.e., there may be more criteria relating to the consequences of time conflicts as opposed to financial consequences).

Increase in use of behavioural tracking data: Over the past few years, innovative social responsibility tools that track player behaviour with the aim of preventing problem gambling have been developed including (e.g., mentor, PlayScan). These new tools are providing insights about problematic gambling behaviour that in turn may lead to new avenues for future research in the area. The companies who have developed these tools claim that they can detect problematic gambling behaviour through analysis of behavioural tracking data. If problem gambling can be detected online via observational tracking data, it suggests that there are identifiable behaviours associated with online problem gambling. Given that almost all of the current validated problem gambling screens diagnose problem gambling based on many of the consequences of problem gambling (e.g., compromising job, education, hobbies and/or relationship because of gambling; committing criminal acts to fund gambling behaviour; lying to family and friends about the extent of gambling, etc.), behavioural tracking data appears to suggest that problem gambling can be identified without the need to assess the negative psychosocial consequences of problem gambling.

Technological help for problem gamblers: Much of this article has discussed the potential downside of technological innovation. However, one area that was not predicted a decade ago is the use of technology in the prevention, intervention, and treatment of problem gambling. For instance, technology is now being used for health promotion using the Web, video games, and/or CD-ROMs. Internet gambling sites are beginning to feature links to relevant gambling awareness sites. For those sites that analyze their online behavioural tracking data, it may be the case that such data could be used to identify problem gamblers and help them rather than exploit them. Finally, help in the form of online therapy (such as online counselling) may be an option for some problem gamblers. For instance, an evaluation that we carried out of an online advice service for problem gamblers showed that clients were very positive about the service and that Internet gamblers were more likely to access the service than non- Internet gamblers.

Obviously the changes I have listed here are the ones that have been most important to me personally and have formed the backbone of my research. In writing these blogs, part of me finds it hard to believe that I am still actively researching in the gambling studies field and that there is always something new to learn and discover.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013).Limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of online gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Gambling technologies: Prospects for problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies, 15, 265-283.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Online betting exchanges: A brief overview. Youth Gambling International, 5(2), 1-2.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Impact of gambling technologies in a multi-media world. Casino and Gaming International, 2(2), 15-18.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Interactive television quizzes as gambling: A cause for concern? Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 269-276.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Social gambling via Facebook: Further observations and concerns. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 104-106.

Griffiths, M.D. & Cooper, G. (2003). Online therapy: Implications for problem gamblers and clinicians. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 13, 113-135.

Griffiths, M.D. & Whitty, M.W. (2010). Online behavioural tracking in Internet gambling research: Ethical and methodological issues. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3, 104-117.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A. & Parke, J. (2009). Social responsibility tools in online gambling: A survey of attitudes and behaviour among Internet gamblers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 413-421.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J. & and Volberg, R. (2011). Defining the online gambler and patterns of behaviour integration: Evidence from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Gambling Studies, 11, 339-356.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Online guidance, advice, and support for problem gamblers and concerned relatives and friends: An evaluation of the Gam-Aid pilot service. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 35, 373-389.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.

Terminal cases: Should virtual roulette machines be banned from high street bookmakers?

A couple of days ago, I took part in a live debate on national radio (BBC 5Live) about whether virtual roulette machines – known by us in the gambling studies field as ‘fixed odds betting terminals’ (FOBTs) – should be banned from high street bookmakers here in the UK. For those who have no idea what I am talking about:

“A fixed odds betting terminal (FOBT) is an electromechanical device normally found in betting shops in the United Kingdom that allows players to bet on the outcome of various games and events with fixed odds. They were introduced to UK shops in 2001. The most commonly played game is roulette. The minimum amount wagered per spin is £1. The maximum bet cannot exceed a payout of £500 (i.e. putting £14.00 on a single number on roulette). The largest single payout cannot exceed £500. Other games include bingo, simulated horseracing and greyhound racing, and a range of slot machine games. Like all casino games, the “house” (i.e. the casino) has a built –in advantage, with current margins on roulette games being theoretically between 2.5% and 5%” (Wikipedia, 2013).

The last decade has seen many changes in the British gambling landscape. The most notable of these include (i) the growth in the availability of remote gambling (via the internet, mobile phone, and interactive television), (ii) the introduction of online betting exchanges,  (iii) an increase in the prominence of poker (both online and offline), (iv) an increase in the number of casinos, and (v) the introduction of FOBTs into most bookmakers.

Relatively little is known about FOBT play among the British population, and the best quality data comes from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS), a nationally representative survey that was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research along with a few expert academics in the gambling studies field (including myself). We published the most recent survey in 2011 and we reported that among our 7,756 participants, only 4% had ever played on FOBTs (up from 3% in our previous 2007 survey) with 6% having played FOBTs in the year prior to the survey. Playing FOBTs was more of a male activity with 7% of males compared to 2% females having ever played (with 10% males and 2% females having played FOBTs in the previous year).

The highest participation rates were among individuals aged in the 16-24 year old age group (12%), followed by 25-34 year olds (9%) and 35-44 year olds (3%). Our study also showed that the prevalence of playing FOBTs was highest among those with the lowest personal income (7%) and lowest among those with highest personal income (4%). This was most likely related to the finding that FOBTs were significantly more likely to be played by people who were out of work. More specifically, 12% of those who were unemployed had played FOBTs in the past year compared with 4% of participants overall. Past year gambling was related to marital status, although as we pointed out in our report, this was likely to be a reflection of the relationship between age and marital status. Prevalence of playing on FOBTs was three times higher among those who were single (9%) than those who were married or separated/divorced (3%).

The latest BGPS findings also produced some interesting findings. For instance, although at a population level, the prevalence rate of ever having gambled on FOBTs was very low – compared to lottery gambling (59%) and playing scratchcards (24%) – the majority that did play on FOBTS did so every week (52%). Arguably the most interesting finding was that among those who played FOBTs, the prevalence of problem gambling was 8.8%. The survey as a whole reported that just under 1% of the British adult population had a gambling problem, so there does seem to be an elevated prevalence of problem gambling among those who play FOBTs (in fact, only two activities – playing poker in a pub or club [12.8%] and playing online slot machines [9.1%] – had a higher prevalence rate of problem gambling by type of game played).

However, extreme caution needs to be exercised when interpreting these data because gamblers rarely engage in just a single activity. In fact, those who played poker at a pub/club and played on FOBTs had the highest engagement in gambling activities, participating in 7.6 and 7.2 gambling activities respectively in the year prior to the survey. Among men, the mean number of gambling activities undertaken in the past year was highest among those who played poker at a pub/club (7.9), those who gambled on online slot machine style games (7.4), and those who played on fixed odds betting terminals (7.4). Among women, the mean number of activities engaged in was highest among those who played on fixed odds betting terminals (6.4), and those who bet on sports events (5.8).

Another interesting finding of the BGPS related to the volume of gambling in terms of time and money. Regular gamblers (i.e., those who gambled once a month or more often) were categorized into one of four groups:

  • High-time only gamblers (i.e., those who spent a lot of time but not a lot of money gambling)
  • High-spend only gamblers (i.e., those who spent a lot money, but not a great deal of time gambling)
  • High-time/high-spend gamblers (i.e., those who spent a lot of time and money gambling)
  • Non-high-time/non-high-spend gamblers (i.e., those who spent little time or money gambling)

High-time/high-spend gamblers showed a relative preference for betting on horse races, FOBTs and playing casino games. High-time/high-spend gamblers also had the most adverse socio-economic profile. They were more likely to live in areas of greatest deprivation, live in low-income households and be unemployed.

So, given all these data, should FOBTs be banned from British bookmakers’ offices? In short, no. Even if the data were more robust, I would argue that FOBTs shouldn’t be banned particularly because similar types of game can already be accessed far more easily via the internet and mobile phone in environments that are arguably less protective towards problem gamblers. My own stance is that to help overcome problems and addictions to FOBT, gaming companies should engage in the highest levels of social responsibility and introduce cutting edge protocols to ensure player protection.

Some of the hottest issues in the responsible gambling field concern pre-commitment and limit setting (i.e., giving gamblers the tools that they can pre-commit to how much time and money they want to spend on gambling before they actually gamble, as opposed to making ‘heat of the moment’ decisions in the midst of gambling wins or losses that could seriously affect good decision-making). The most practical solution to the issue of curbing problems with FOBTs would be to make the playing of the machine dependent on the gambler having a player card that (a) allows gamblers to pre-commit to how much time and money they are prepared to spend gambling, and (b) allows gaming operators to track their customers’ behaviour, and – with the appropriate behavioural tracking tools – provide informed feedback to the gambler while they are actually gambling. Such a ssystem already operates on a national level in Norway, so there is no reason why it couldn’t be implemented here. What’s more, such technology could be made mandatory, meaning that any gaming operator who wanted a gaming license would legally have to implement such a system as part of its player protection and harm minimization strategies.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of online gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Strategies for detecting and controlling electronic gaming vulnerabilities. Casino and Gaming International, 4(4), 103-108.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Impact of high stake, high prize gaming machines on problem gaming. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2010). Gambling, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and health: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Addiction Research and Theory, 18, 208-223.

Orford, J.F., Griffiths, M.D. & Wardle, H. (2013). What proportion of gambling is problem gambling? Estimates from the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. International Gambling Studies, in press.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Wardle, H., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J., Moody, A. & Volberg, R. (2012). Gambling in Britain: A time of change? Health implications from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 273-277.

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011).  British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M.D., Constantine, R. & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: The Stationery Office.

Wikipedia (2013). Fixed odds betting terminal. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed_odds_betting_terminal

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Social responsibility in online gambling: Voluntary limit setting. World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(11), 10-11.