Gambling – a risky business?

Stephanie BramleyCaroline NorrieDr Stephanie Bramley (Research Associate, left) and Caroline Norrie (Research Fellow) of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s introduce their new study. (1335 words)

In May the Unit began working on a new project exploring gambling participation by adults at risk. Here we explain some of the background to this study and set out what we intend to focus on. We would be pleased to hear from people with an interest in this subject—either existing interest or new interest following this blog.

Gambling is a popular leisure activity in Britain. The Gambling Commission says that 45% of adults participated in gambling during the last 4 weeks. Playing the National Lottery is the most popular activity, followed by online gambling, scratchcards, other lotteries, horses, sports betting, online betting and private betting. Between October 2014 and September 2015 the British gambling industry generated a gross gambling yield of £12.6 billion (the amount retained by gambling operators after the payment of winnings, but before the deduction of the costs of the operation) (Gambling Commission, 2016) and in the 2015-16 tax year the tax revenue from betting and gaming reached £2.7 billion (HMRC, 2016).

The rise of gambling in Britain was discussed extensively in 2011 by Jim Orford in his book: An Unsafe Bet? The dangerous rise of gambling and the debate we should be having, which we précis here. Orford describes how British gambling policy changed throughout the 20th century up to the first decade of the 21st century. From 1906 until 1959, gambling in Britain was partially prohibited but this gradually challenged. In 1960, the Betting and Gaming Act legalised almost all forms of gambling and in 1978 the Royal Commission on Gambling, chaired by Lord Rothschild, concluded that the legalisation of gambling had been successful, gambling was being well-regulated and that some relaxation of the regulations was warranted. The Commission also recommended the setting up of a National Lottery (public lotteries had been illegal since 1826).

During 1960 to 1978 gambling was therefore permitted and tolerated, but not encouraged. However the Commission’s report encouraged the Home Office to ease its attitude to tight regulation. The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 1984 together with occasional statutory instruments allowed a number of relaxations on gambling including controls of bingo advertising and permitted the broadcasting of live or recorded racing and other sports events on television in betting shops. The era of gambling liberalisation began in 1990s and the 1993 National Lottery Act made provision for the setting up of a National Lottery. The first National Lottery draw was held in November 1994 and Britons bought 49 million tickets.

As most of us will have witnessed, in the last years of the 20th Century regulations were further eased in almost all gambling sectors. Taking betting as an example, Sunday racing with on- and off-course betting was introduced, betting shops were allowed to provide non-alcoholic drinks and snacks to its customers, betting shops’ windows were allowed to be transparent and to display advertising. Jackpot gaming machines and fixed odds betting games were also permitted. Therefore between the 1960s and the 2000s a transition occurred—gambling became an activity which was closely regulated, but left to market forces to determine.

Gambling in the early 21st century became more liberalised, more varied and more accessible. The 2001 Gambling Review Body report made 176 recommendations in the direction of removing restrictions on gambling. Suggestions including abolishing the previous restriction of casinos to a limited number of permitted areas; abolishing the rule that a new member of a casino was required to wait 24 hours before playing; increasing the variety of games permitted in casinos and bingo halls; allowing unlimited stakes and prizes, multiple games and rollovers in relation to bingo; permitting gambling advertising; lifting the prohibition on British based online gambling sites and the introduction of Las Vegas-style casino gaming resorts. Orford argues that this new era in British gambling represented the culmination of the process of deregulation and led to the creation of the 2005 Gambling Act.

The 2005 Gambling Act came fully into operation in September 2007 and led to further changes in the patterns of gambling behaviour. Nearly three quarters, 73% of the UK adult population, participated in gambling in 2010, relative to 68% in 2007. This reflects major expansions in the availability of gambling. Among other things, this expansion is reflected in: (a) a 10% increase (between 2008 and 2015) in the number of Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals; (b) the abolition of the so-called ‘demand test’ which previously outlined that gambling should only be meeting ‘unstimulated demand’; (c) new online gambling services, which were legalised under the 2005 Act and provide access to gambling 24 hours a day; (d) large increases in exposure to gambling advertisements, from 0.5% of television advertising spots in 2005 to 4.1% in 2012 and (e) the clustering of betting shops in some British high streets (there are around 9,000 licensed betting shops in the UK). However, according to figures recently published by the Gambling Commission, gambling participation has fallen to 45% (attributed to a drop in National Lottery participation).

Other sources raise a related subject. Problem gambling, defined as ‘gambling to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits’ within the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey, is estimated to affect 0.5% of the adult population, around 280,000 people. More broadly, figures within the 2012 Health Survey for England suggest that 7.1% of men and 2.1% of women are at-risk of gambling-related harm.

The potential issue of adults at risk and problem gambling or gambling-related harm is addressed in the 2005 Gambling Act. It states that licensing authorities should ‘aim to permit the use of premises for gambling’ so long that the applications are consistent with the Act’s licensing objectives, one of which is ‘protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.’ However no definitions of ‘vulnerable persons’ or ‘harm’ or ‘exploitation’ are provided within legislation. An indication of who are potential vulnerable groups in relation to gambling was recently suggested by researchers. For example, a secondary analysis of data derived from the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey by Cowlishaw and Kessler (2016) found associations between problem gambling and mental health problems (anxiety, neurotic symptoms and substance use problems) and psychosocial maladjustment (suicidality, financial difficulties and social support). More broadly, stories in the press concerning gambling in relation to dementia, financial abuse, medications, mental health and suicidality provide avenues for further research.

Recently, the Gambling Commission has brought in new rules with the aim of protecting vulnerable people. The rules include requiring customers to be able to set time and monetary limits on FOBTs; online gambling operators offering their customers a time out facility; licensees offering customers the opportunity to self-exclude from multiple gambling facilities and the introduction of Local Risk Assessments. From April 2016 local authorities are required to create a ‘Statement of Licensing Policy’ and licensees must assess the local risks to the licensing objectives posed by the provision of gambling facilities at each of their premises, and have policies, procedures and control measures to mitigate these risks. However, it will take time to determine the effectiveness of such measures.

In the meantime, it is likely that the British gambling industry will continue to grow, and the opportunities to gamble and the technology utilised to facilitate gambling will evolve. It is within this developing landscape that we have been working with stakeholders in order to advance understanding of responsible gambling, social responsibility and the nature of gambling-related harm for adults at risk. To this end, we are reviewing the literature to ascertain what is known about gambling and adults at risk. Our study will focus on people with dementia and learning disability and/or other mental health problems. Industry representatives have identified these groups as being particularly difficult for them to identify and therefore protect using responsible gambling measures. We will also be carrying out a survey of adult safeguarding managers and other social care staff with the aim of investigating the incidence of gambling for adults at risk and good practice in dealing with arising concerns.

Dr Stephanie Bramley is Research Associate and Caroline Norrie is Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s.

Adults at risk and gambling project page.

For further details or comments on this blog please contact Caroline (, Stephanie ( or Jill (


Cowlishaw, S. & Kessler, D. (2016). Problem gambling in the UK: Implications for health, psychosocial, adjustment and health care utilization. European Addiction Research, 22, pp. 90-98.

Gambling Commission (2016). Gambling participation: activities and mode of access – April 2016. Accessed June 6th, 2016, from

Gambling Commission (2015). Licensing conditions and codes of practice: Updated April 2015. Accessed June 6th, 2016 from

HM Revenue & Customs (2016). HRMC Annual Report and Accounts 2015-16. Accessed July 20th, 2016 from

Orford, J. (2011). An unsafe bet? The dangerous rise of gambling and the debate we should be having. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Wardle, H. & Seabury, C. (2012). Health Survey for England – 2012: Chapter 7, Gambling behaviour. Accessed June 6th, 2016 from

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011). British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: National Centre for Social Research.

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