Gambling the Future Away

The Lure of Easy Money

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, FEB. 27, 2011 ( More and more people are gambling in Britain, and the number of problem gamblers has also risen. This is the conclusion of a survey published Feb. 15 by the country’s Gambling Commission.

The British Gambling Prevalence Survey showed that 73% of adults gambled in 2010, compared to 68% in 2007. The study also revealed that the proportion of problem gamblers increased from 0.5% of the adult population in 2007 to 0.7% in 2010. The report did qualify this by saying that the small increase was not statistically significant.

Nevertheless, Brian Pomeroy, the Gambling Commission’s chairman, did admit that a “small, but probably growing, proportion of the population have serious problems with their gambling,” according to a statement in the accompanying press release.

The National Lottery was the most popular form of gambling, with 59% of adults purchasing
tickets in the past 12 months. The next most popular activities were other lotteries (25%)
and scratchcards (24%), followed by betting on horse races (16%).

In terms of frequency the survey found that 43% of adults had gambled on at least one activity in the past week prior to being questioned. Over a third of adults had bought tickets for the National Lottery Draw in the past week.

When it comes to the profile of gamblers the study noted that gambling was significantly higher for the ethnic group of whites, at 76%. This compares to 52% for blacks, and 41% for Asians.

Education was another differentiating factor. People who had the highest level of educational qualifications were less likely to have gambled in the past year than those with lower educational qualifications. In 2010, 70% of those who had a university degree or higher had gambled, compared to 76% among those who had no tertiary education.


When it comes to the group of problem gamblers the survey noted that this was more prevalent among men than women. It was also related to age, with problem gambling estimates higher among young adults than those who were older.

While this affects less than 1% of the population the study stated that it is an important public health concern.

As with gambling in general those who have problems are more likely have lower educational qualifications. The ethnic background is, however, different, with Asians having the highest level of problem gamblers, followed by blacks and whites respectively.

There were also differences between average gamblers and those with problems when it came to their motivations.

While reasons such as the desire for winning money rated highly among normal gamblers it was no higher as a motivation than the idea of doing it for fun and excitement.

For those who are defined as problem gamblers they were more likely to do so to promote positive emotions and to avoid or reduce negative emotions. Social or extrinsic motivations, such as the desire to win money, were less important to them.


Australia is another country where there is concern over the impact of gambling. A report last year by the Productivity Commission highlighted the social costs of problem gamblers and the misery it brings to hundreds of thousands of people.

Following the report the Australian parliament agreed to set up a committee to look into possible reforms of the laws regulating gambling and what could be done to mitigate the extent of problem gamblers.

During February the committee has been travelling around the country, hearing testimony from a variety of groups.

In Adelaide Allan Moss, the head of South Australia’s Independent Gambling Authority, told the parliamentarians that he is in favor of a smart card that would set daily or weekly limits for poker machine players, the Australian Associated Press reported Feb. 1.

In Tasmania’s capital, Hobart, the committee was urged to recommend the federal government set up a national database of problem gamblers, ABC news reported Feb. 18. Matt Rowell, of Relationships Australia, also said that any system to place betting limits on gamblers would need to ensure there was a cooling off period during which people are not allowed to change the limits established.

Poker machines count for 62% of gambling in Australia and 80% of problem gamblers, according to a report by ABC news published Dec. 17.

The article described the experiences of some who had become addicted to poker machine gambling. One of them, Kate Roberts, criticized the way the machines disguised losses by saying someone was a winner when they won a dollar on a two-dollar outlay.

While limits might work for poker machines it won’t do anything to curb the growth in online gambling. it’s against the law for overseas sites to offer online gambling to Australians, but the online casino and poker industry is reaping hundred of millions of dollars, ABC news reported in a December 14 report on the online gambling industry published Dec. 14.

While the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 has stopped Australian-based sites it has not prevented people from accessing thousands of overseas sites. Legal expert Jamie Nettleton told the ABC that it would be very difficult to enforce the law against operators based in countries where online gambling is legal.

One study cited by the ABC affirmed that almost a third of Australians aged 16 and over have gambled online.

Governments win

One problem governments have in regulating gambling is that additional restrictions could reduce the revenue they receive. In Canada, for example, the different levels of government collected $C14.75 billion from the gaming industry in 2009, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper last Aug. 27.

An article published July 27 last year by the New York Times reported that in Europe governments were eyeing gambling as one way to reduce budget deficits exacerbated by the current economic downturn.

The month before the article was written France changed the law to allow online gambling, the same month Denmark moved to do the same. Switzerland, Spain and Germany are considering following suit, according to the New York Times.

The article cited a study showing that Europe is now the biggest online gambling market in the world, accounting for $12.5 billion of $29.3 billion, the estimated global revenues for 2010.

Italy has partially legalized online gambling, a move that brought in an additional $150 million in taxes, the article noted.

As opportunities for gambling continue to expand, including through mobile phones and Facebook applications, the question remains about how interested governments are in doing anything to limit the social costs of excessive gambling.

In the end perhaps it will only be through popular pressure. A recent example if this occurred in Berlin, Germany. The city has over 300 gaming halls and casinos about in the city, along with around 37,000 gaming addicts, the Irish Times reported Feb. 19.

The companies behind the gaming establishments are known to be lavish donors to the political parties and the article said that some critics of gambling see a connection between the donations and the decision to liberalize Berlin’s gambling laws in 2006.

Recent public protests have managed to reverse some of these changes, with the city government saying it will limit opening hours and increase taxes. Governments may be tempted by gambling’s easy money, but they are far from immune to pressure from voters.

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