At the most recent Labour Party conference, the Party’s deputy leader Tom Watson said that if they formed the next Government they would introduce legislation to force gambling operators to pay a levy to fund research and NHS treatment to help problem gamblers deal with their addiction. This is something which I wholeheartedly support and is also something that I have been calling for myself for over a decade
The most recent statistics on gambling participation by the Gambling Commission in August 2017 reported that 63% of the British population had gambled in the last year and that the prevalence rate of problem gambling among those 16 years and over was 0.6%-0.7%. While this is relatively low, this still equates to approximately 360,000 adult problem gamblers and is of serious concern.
At present the gambling industry voluntarily donates money to an independent charitable trust (GambleAware) and most of this money funds gambling treatment (with the remaining monies being used to fund education and research). In the 12 months prior to March 2017, the gambling industry had donated £8 million, an amount still 20% below the £10 million a year I recommended in a report I wrote for the British Medical Association a number of years ago.
A statutory levy of 1% on all gambling profits made by the British gambling industry would raise considerably more money for gambling education, treatment and research than the £8 million voluntarily donated last year and is the main reason why I am in favour of it. Gambling has not been traditionally viewed as a public health matter. However, I believe that gambling addiction is a health issue as much as a social issue because there are many health consequences for those addicted to gambling including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress related disorders. This is in addition to other personal issues such as problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, neglect of family, and bankruptcy.
There are also many recommendations that I would make in addition to a statutory levy. These include:
- Brief screening for gambling problems among participants in alcohol and drug treatment facilities, mental health centres and outpatient clinics, as well as probation services and prisons should be routine.
- The need for education and training in the diagnosis and effective treatment of gambling problems must be addressed within GP training. Furthermore, GPs should screen for problem gambling in the same way that they do for other consumptive behaviours such as cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking. At the very least, GPs should know where they can refer their patients with gambling problems to.
- Research into the efficacy of various approaches to the treatment of gambling addiction in the UK needs to be undertaken and should be funded by GambleAware.
- Treatment for problem gambling should be provided under the NHS (either as standalone services or alongside drug and alcohol addiction services) and funded either by gambling-derived revenue (i.e., a ‘polluter pays’ model).
- Given the associations between problem gambling, crime, and other psychological disorders (including other addictions), brief screening should be routine for gambling problems should be carried out in alcohol and drug treatment facilities, mental health centres and outpatient clinics, as well as probation services and prisons.
- Education and prevention programmes should be targeted at adolescents along with other potentially addictive and harmful behaviours (e.g., smoking, drinking, and drug taking) within the school curriculum.
As I have tried to demonstrate, problem gambling is very much a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all in the medical profession. General practitioners routinely ask patients about smoking and drinking, but gambling is something that is not generally discussed. Problem gambling may be perceived as a grey area in the field of health. If the main aim of practitioners is to ensure the health of their patients, then an awareness of gambling and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge in the training of those working in the health field.
Gambling is not an issue that will go away. Opportunities to gamble and access to gambling have increased due to the fact that anyone with Wi-Fi access and a smartphone or tablet can gamble from wherever they are. While problem gambling can never be totally eliminated, the Government must have robust gambling policies in place so that potential harm is minimized for the millions of people that gamble. For the small minority of individuals who develop gambling problems, there must be treatment resources in place that are affordable and easily accessible.
(N.B. This is a longer version of an article that was originally published in The Conversation)
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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.
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Problem gambling. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 16, 582-584.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.
Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The lost gamblers: Problem gambling. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 3(1), 13-15.
Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association
Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Gambling regulation from a psychologist’s perspective: Thoughts and recommendations. In Gebhardt, I. (Ed.), Glücksspiel – Ökonomie, Recht, Sucht (Gambling – Economy, Law, Addiction) (Second Edition) (pp. 938-944). Berlin: De Gruyter.
Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gambling in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.
I’ve been working in the area of gambling for nearly 30 years and over the past 15 years I have carrying out research into both online gambling and responsible gambling. As I have outlined in previous blogs, one of the new methods I have been using in my published papers is online behavioural tracking. The chance to carry out innovative research in both areas using a new methodology was highly appealing – especially as I have used so many other methods in my gambling research (including online and offline surveys, experiments in laboratories and ecologically valid settings, offline focus groups, online and offline case study interviews, participant and non-participation observation, secondary analysis of survey data, and analysis of various forms of online data such as those found in online forums and online diary blogs).
Over the last decade there has been a big push by gambling regulators for gambling operators to be more socially responsible towards its clientele and this has led to the use of many different responsible gambling (RG) tools and initiatives such as voluntary self-exclusion schemes (where gamblers can ban themselves from gambling), limit setting (where gamblers can choose how much time and/or money they want to lose while gambling), personalized feedback (where gamblers can get personal feedback and advice based on their actual gambling behaviour) and pop-up messages (where gamblers receive a pop-up message during play that informs them how long they have been playing or how much money that have spent during the session).
However, very little is known about whether these RG tools and initiatives actually work, and most of the research that has been published relies on laboratory methods and self-reports – both of which have problems as reliable methods when it comes to evaluating whether RG tools work. Laboratory experiments typically contain very few participants and are carried out in non-ecologically valid settings, and self-reports are prone to many biases (including social desirability and recall biases). Additionally, the sample sizes are also relatively small (although bigger than experiments).
The datasets to analyse player behaviour are huge and can include hundreds of thousands of online gamblers. Given that my first empirical paper on gambling published in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 1990 was a participant observational analysis of eight slot machine gamblers at one British amusement arcade, it is extraordinary to think that decades later I have access to datasets beyond anything I could have imagined back in the 1980s when I began my research career. The data analysis is carried with my research colleague Michael Auer who has a specific expertise in data mining and we use traditional statistical tests to analyse the data. However, the hardest part is always trying to work out which parameters to use in assessing whether the RG tool worked or not. The kind of data we have includes how much time and money that players are spending on the gambling website, and using that data we can assess to what extent the amount of time and money decreases as a result of using limit setting measures, or receiving personalized feedback or a pop-up message.
One of the biggest problems in doing this type of research in the gambling studies field is getting access to the data in the first place and the associated issue of whether academics should be working with the gambling industry in the first place. The bottom line is that we would never have been able to undertake this kind of innovative research with participant sizes of hundreds of thousands of real gamblers without working in co-operation with the gambling industry. (It should also be noted that the gambling companies in question did not fund the research but provided simply provided access to their databases and customers). In fact, I would go as far as to say the research would have been impossible without gambling industry co-operation. Data access provided by the gambling industry has to be one of the key ways forward if the field is to progress.
Unlike other consumptive and potentially addictive behaviours (smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, etc.), researchers can study real-time gambling (and other potentially addictive behaviours like video gaming and social networking) in a way that just cannot be done in other chemical and behavioural addictions (e.g., sex, exercise, work, etc.) because of online and/or card-based technologies (such as loyalty cards and player cards). There is no equivalent of this is the tobacco or alcohol industry, and is one of the reasons why researchers in the gambling field are beginning to liaise and/or collaborate with gambling operators. As researchers, we should always strive to improve our theories and models and it appears strange to neglect this purely objective information simply because it involves working together with the gambling industry. This is especially important given the recent research by Dr. Julia Braverman and colleagues published in the journal Psychological Assessment using data from gamblers on the bwin website showing that self-recollected information does not match with objective behavioural tracking data.
The great thing about online behavioural tracking data collected from gamblers is that it is totally objective (as it provides a true record of what every gambler does click-by-click), is collected from real world gambling websites (so is ecologically valid), and has large sample sizes (typically tens of thousands of online gamblers). There of course some disadvantages, the main ones being that the sample is unrepresentative of all online gamblers (as the data only comes from gamblers at one website) and nothing is known about the person’s gambling activity at other websites (research has shown that online gamblers typically gamble at a number of different websites and not just one). Despite these limitations, the analysis of behavioural tracking data (so-called ‘big data’) is a reliable and cutting-edge way to assess and evaluate online gambling behaviour and to assess whether RG tools actually work in real world gambling settings with real online gamblers in real time.
To get access to such data you have to cultivate a trusting relationship with the data providers. It took me years to build up trust with the gambling industry because researchers who study problem gambling are often perceived by the gambling industry to be ‘anti-gambling’ but in my case this wasn’t true. I am ‘pro-responsible gambling’ and gamble myself so it would be hypocritical to be anti-gambling. My main aim in my gambling research is to protect players and minimise harm. Problem gambling will never be totally eliminated but it can be minimised. If gambling companies share the same aim and philosophy of not wanting to make money from problem gamblers but to make money from non-problem gamblers, then I would be prepared to help and collaborate.
You also need to be thick-skinned. If you are analysing any behavioural tracking data provided by the gambling industry, then you need to be prepared for others in the field criticizing you for working in collaboration with the industry. Although none of this research is funded by the industry, the fact that you are collaborating is enough for some people to accuse you of not being independent and/or being in the pockets of the gambling industry. Neither of these are true but it won’t stop the criticism. Nor will it stop me from carrying on researching in this area using datasets provided by the gambling industry.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of 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. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity (revisited): A response to Braverman et al (2013). Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 921-931.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.
Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.
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.
Auer, M., Schneeberger, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity: A simulation study. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 16, 269-273.
Braverman, J., Tom, M., & Shaffer, H. J. (2014). Accuracy of self-reported versus actual online gambling wins and losses. Psychological Assessment, 26, 865-877.
Griffiths, M.D. (1990). Addiction to fruit machines: A preliminary study among males. Journal of Gambling Studies, 6, 113-126.
Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2011). Approaches to understanding online versus offline gaming impacts. Casino and Gaming International, 7(3), 45-48.
Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2015). Research funding in gambling studies: Some further observations. International Gambling Studies, 15, 15-19.
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”.
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
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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.