The use of data is key in driving evidence-led policy when it comes to gambling. In the UK the need for more in depth, varied and accurate data will benefit all stakeholders.
The UK Gambling Commission collects annual data on gambling participation and prevalence in the UK; it also conducts other research covering other industry trends such as young people’s exposure to gambling and problem gambling statistics.
How that data is collected in many ways is just as important as the revenues generated by operators’ economic activity.
However, the Commission can be slow to collect datasets, which can leave long gaps between issues cropping up, regulation and modification. This time-lapse affects millions of gamblers, problem gamblers, and operators (in lost or gained revenues). What’s more, UKGC only has the capacity to conduct a certain amount of data collection, which leaves knowledge gaps.
Collecting detailed data on key areas of gambling is the only way to allow for a balanced debate. This is well demonstrated by problem gambling. The UK general public is mainly exposed to highly emotive and negative stories of gambling addiction that mention the loss of homes, jobs, families, debt, and in some cases, suicide. The issue is not that these stories are untrue but that the coverage is charged and doesn’t mention other potential contributory factors to players falling into problem gambling or addiction. Therefore, formal industry data on problem gambling is crucial for a balanced debate on topics like problem gambling.
Most importantly, data and research allow for targeted regulation. Better-informed and targeted regulation matters for supporting the 0.2% that are problem gamblers; it guides which regulations are implemented and how funding is distributed to problem gambling support channels, which is essential for the availability of support services.
For example, NHS England refers to Public Health England statistics for a deeper understanding of problem gambling. These show that the North of England has the highest rate of at-risk gamblers – 4.4% of adults in the North West and 4.9% in the North East.
This has allowed them to target cities in these locations for two new specialist support clinics. Data is vital for understanding, supporting and preventing problem gambling. The fact that the NHS refers to Public Health stats highlights the importance of using multiple complementary data sources.
The scarcity of data on a range of other topics
While we have large data sets on gambling participation, problem gambling and other areas like young people and gambling from the UKGC, there are significant gaps. For example, UKGC research shows that slots are the largest revenue earners for the industry and the casino game with the largest loss per player, but there are no formal data sets on the gender and age of slots players. There’s also little official UKGC research on the size of the illegal/unregulated market, even though by its very nature it is hard to be certain of any numbers that would come up.
Gaps in data and, therefore, knowledge of the industry leave the UKGC reliant on gambling stakeholders, including operators, charities, organisations and economic bodies, to fill the information void. The data collected by stakeholders is often highly insightful, like the recent Ernst and Young report on the financial contribution of the betting and gaming sector for 2021-22 or the PwC report on the size of the European black market. Still, outside of operators, these are often not held in the same regard as UKGC data and publications.
An area where more data would currently better inform policy is wagering requirement reforms. Currently, there is no survey data regarding wagering requirements from the UKGC. Recent guidance released by the Commission has signalled the regulator’s disapproval on the issue, noting high requirements “may encourage excessive play” and instructing licensees to review their bonus terms and conditions.
However, thanks to results collected by operators like PlayOJO and Paddy Power Betfair, the industry is already aware of a popular and fairer alternative to traditional bonuses: no wagering bonuses. Casinos and affiliates marketing this type of bonus, like No Wagering, have recorded onboarding record levels of new players and high success rates, proving no wagering bonuses can be profitable.
New data-driven direction for the Commission
The importance of data is recognised at the very top of the industry, and to address these issues the Commission is in the process of testing new data collection methods. The aim is to have “a more efficient, cost effective data source providing robust and timely insight and the flexibility to swiftly provide information on emerging trends relating to a range of gambling behaviours.”
Moreover, the Commission’s Chair, Martin Boyle, has also announced that he would put “data at the heart of the Commission’s approach to regulation and consumer protection”.
In practice, this would mean:
Increased ability to react and evaluate
- Better data collection will allow the Commission to react to the fast-changing gambling industry and evaluate the effectiveness of licensing requirements, overcoming issues of lengthy data collection, implementation of regulations and evaluation. Better data collection will allow for quicker, more targeted policy and regulation. In the case of player protections, this is key as regulations affect the entire gambling industry and revenue.
More data sharing
- “The future could well see a more dynamic and open use of industry data, with the regulator expanding its own insights to complement peer-reviewed research.”
As part of putting data at the heart of the Commission’s regulatory approach is the acceptance that industry shareholders and research can also be helpful. The Commission’s role in facilitating this could be releasing more of their data and conducting repeat analytical insights, thus helping to inform independent researchers where the most significant focus areas are.
However, the quality of the research matters, meaning peer-reviewed, high-quality work. Such an approach would allow the Commission to take a more proactive stance, creating policy updates and changes they say would be “made in good faith using the best available evidence, being modified based on more regular and deeper insights and reviews”.
Data and insight: key for ongoing reform
With current UK gambling laws under review, a faster, more informed and flexible Commission is required to help operators feel confident in a regulatory environment where affordability checks, per-player budgets, and other more stringent regulations are on the agenda.
Data is a vital tool for regulators and businesses and with responsible gambling measures already impacting the largest operators in the UK ahead of the now considerably delayed White Paper, an informed, data-driven approach has never been more urgent.
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