The Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission has called on gambling stakeholders to take more care when presenting statistics, following high-profile disagreements about the way facts and figures have been presented by the industry.
In an open letter, Chief Executive Andrew Rhodes said it was incumbent on gambling operators, industry bodies and other organisations to avoid the “misuse” of statistics and figures around gambling.
The comments come following accusations levelled in parliament against the Betting & Gaming Council, the main body that lobbies on behalf of the gambling industry, alleging that the body had not been “fully accurate” in its use of figures around gambling harms.
Points raised in Rhodes’ letter
In his letter, Rhodes said there was “a wide range of opinions on the subject and they sometimes differ very greatly and can be equally strongly held.”
He went on to acknowledge that these passions on all sides could lead to elaborate theories and unhelpful personal attacks on the individuals and organisations concerned.
“Sometimes this can boil over into personal comments and even conspiracy theories as to what a given group, organisation or individual is believed to be seeking.”
Rhodes said the Gambling Commission had seen a “significant increase in the misuse of statistics around gambling as different parties seek to make persuasive arguments for or against different proposals.”
Branding this as “unacceptable”, Rhodes called on all interested groups to be more discerning in their choice of statistics, and to be mindful of the way data is being presented when using figures to support their policy objectives.
The recent two-year review of the Gambling Act, which resulted in the long-awaited government white paper in Apri 2023, saw opposing sides relying increasingly heavily on the presentation of statistics—particularly around problem gambling and gambling-related harm.
While the two have often been conflated, Rhodes said that it was important to acknowledge that “problem gambling and gambling-related harm are two separate, but linked, experiences.”
In particular, the UKGC raised concerns about the use of the Problem Gambling Severity Index, in particular phrasing such as “99.7 percent of people who gamble do so without being harmed.”
“This is a percentage of the whole adult population in Great Britain and not of solely those who gamble as many have tried to suggest.”
The Chief Executive also highlighted misrepresentation of data from the Health Survey for England 2021, which suggested problem gambling rates of 0.8% from those who gambled in the previous year.
However, this figure did not include those at moderate risk of problem gambling (1.2%), or those at low risk of gambling harm (4%).
Acknowledging that “beneath the surface of those numbers the picture is more complicated”, Rhodes said data must be interpreted more carefully and accurately to present a more honest picture of the findings.
In concluding his letter, Rhodes acknowledged that the overall proportion of those suffering from problem gambling was low. However, he said this should not be allowed to detract from the often “catastrophic consequences” facing those who do succumb to gambling problems.
“Even with a relatively low proportion of people experiencing problem gambling we must remember that this can and does have catastrophic consequences and equates to hundreds of thousands of people directly affected and a greater number amongst friends, families and others.”
“The debate around gambling is often a fierce one, but nobody is well-served by statistics being misused to further an argument. I therefore ask anyone commenting on this area to take a greater degree of care to ensure they are using evidence and statistics correctly, accurately and in the proper context and with any necessary caveats applied.”
Recent issues highlighted
The debate around the scale and impact of problem gambling has been notably more fierce in recent months, following the accusations levied against the BGC by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Foster.
Referring in a letter to the select committee for culture, media and sport to a number of “instances when the BGC has not been entirely accurate” in reporting gambling statistics, the lawmaker sparked the ire of the BGC and its chief executive, the former Labour shadow minister for the brief, Michael Dugher.
Dugher and the BGC strongly refuted the claims at the time, with Dugher himself defending the position in person in front of a select committee in parliament last month.
With the new comments from Andrew Rhodes weighing into the argument, it looks like the regulator is set to keep a closer eye on the way statistics are being used by various groups and bodies within the industry.
The letter should be regarded as a shot across the bows for gambling industry stakeholders, and a reminder to all of their responsibilities to full transparency and accuracy—even at the expense of the strength of their own arguments.
Only by operating with full integrity and transparency can industry bodies hope to win the trust of lawmakers and regulators, and thereby advance their interests effectively.