Problem Gambling Research
Published in June 2023, the 'Problem Gambling Literature Review' is the first in a series of studies that the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has been commissioned to undertake by the government of Ireland. This review was commissioned through the Department of Justice and the Implementation Team supporting the establishment of Údarás Rialála Cearrbhachais na hÉireann, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI).
Research is a vital element of policy development, and, in particular, it helps to ensure that the measures introduced as a result will be appropriately targeted in terms of protecting children and individuals who are vulnerable to the harms associated with excessive gambling. Education, awareness-raising and research with regard to gambling and, in particular, the associated risks will be a key function of the GRAI when it is established.
Because Gambling is a large and growing industry, there has also been growing concern about the potential harm that can arise from problem gambling. In late 2022, new legislation was introduced in Ireland to provide for more stringent regulation of the gambling industry and to establish an independent regulator, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI).
The 'Problem Gambling Literature Review' summarises and evaluates evidence from international research that is relevant to a number of policy questions. In doing so, it also identifies where evidence is deficient or lacking to highlight some important and fruitful avenues for future research. The findings of this review for each issue are summarised below.
Listen to discussions around the ESRI gambling report from RTE Radio 1, DRIVETIME, on the 20th of June 2023 with Dr Shane Timmons, Senior Research Officer, ESRI; Prof Colin O'Gara, Consultant Psychiatrist.
THE PREVALENCE OF PROBLEM GAMBLING
Problem gambling and its most severe form, gambling disorder, are defined based on the presence of symptoms and behaviours such as lying to conceal gambling repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce gambling and needing to gamble with increasingly large amounts to achieve the desired excitement. Based on survey data, 0.3 per cent of the Irish population (approximately 12,000 people) have been estimated to suffer from problem gambling, with a further 0.9 per cent (35,000 people) at moderate risk and 2.3 per cent (90,000) at low risk. Methodological issues with survey design and response biases mean these figures are likely underestimated.
FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH PROBLEM GAMBLING
The societal burden of harm from problem gambling is large and may be accounted for mostly by people with less severe problem gambling (simply because they are more numerous). The implication is that broadly targeted interventions and policies may be warranted rather than those targeted only at those with the most severe problem gambling. Men, younger people and disadvantaged groups are at the greatest risk of problem gambling, as are those with other addictive and mental health issues. Compared to other gamblers, people with problem gambling tend to engage more in gambling with a high frequency of rounds and short intervals between wagers and potential payouts (e.g. interactive online gambling, casino gambling and electronic gaming machines).
ATTITUDES AND PERCEPTIONS ABOUT PROBLEM GAMBLING
The public negatively perceives gambling, and problem gambling tends to be highly stigmatised. Individuals often have difficulty perceiving their gambling problems and recalling their expenditures.
THE MARKETING OF GAMBLING
There is reasonably strong evidence that exposure to gambling advertising increases gambling behaviour. Several issues around gambling advertising have been highlighted by recent research, including targeting advertising at specific demographics, its unavoidability, offering financial incentives to gamble, the lack of effectiveness of ‘responsible gambling’ messaging, and the increasingly interactive nature of gambling advertising. Systematic biases in probability judgements among bettors may be an important reason why gambling operators can, and typically do, extract large profit margins on complex bets (i.e. highly specific bets, such as a bet on the combination of a first goalscorer and final scoreline in a soccer match).
INTERVENTIONS TO TACKLE PROBLEM GAMBLING
Supply-side interventions, such as limit-setting tools (i.e. a tool on a gambling website) that allow the gambler to pre-set limits on time or money spent gambling) and personalised feedback (e.g., regular updates provided by a gambling website to the gambler on their cumulative losses) effectively prevents and reduces gambling behaviour and problem gambling. The evidence favouring educational interventions for combatting the gambling problem is mixed. Therapeutic interventions, such as CBT, are effective in treating problem gambling. There is insufficient evidence to conclude that pharmacological interventions effectively treat problem gambling.
ISSUES FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
Social casino games (i.e. online games that mimic gambling without real money) are associated with problem gambling, prompting speculation that they may act as a gateway to real gambling and problem gambling, particularly for children and adolescents. Social casino games are not subject to gambling regulation and are legally accessible to minors. Loot box’ purchasing in video games is similar to gambling but remains largely unregulated and is accessible to minors. Research shows significant correlations between loot box purchasing and problem gambling.