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Happiness levels lower in problem gamblers than rest of population

Poker chips

04 May 2017

New research examining the collective costs of being a problem gambler, drawing on a survey of 10,000 UK adults, has found that problem gamblers rate their happiness as significantly lower than those gamblers who do not have a problem and non-gamblers. 

Researchers from Lancaster University Management School and the University of Sheffield, estimated that if problem gambling was eliminated, happiness would rise by as much as if the nation were collectively better off by about £30 billion per annum - around 2% of GNP.

Respondents were asked the question ‘taking all things together, on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy would you say you are these days?' Those who didn’t have a gambling problem said on average 7.95; this was significantly higher than problem gamblers, who rated their happiness at 6.25. Although not all of this was deemed solely due to problem gambling, after taking other influences into account, a huge difference of around 1.5 remained.

The study then looked at how responses to this happiness question varied across the income distribution. On average, doubling income would raise happiness by just about half a point. A problem gambler with a 6.25 would need around an extra £90,000 per annum to cheer them up enough to be as happy as someone who was a 7.95.

Analysis of survey data reveals that around 0.7% of adults are classified as problem gamblers. Across the whole population, that’s about a third of a million people.

Professor Ian Walker of Lancaster University Management School, co-author of the report, said: “If we include online activity we spend around £50 billion per year on gambling; of which we lose about £12 billion. For most people in the UK this activity is not a problem, just harmless fun; however for some it causes significant financial harm. That is why we set out to discover what the real cost of being a problem gambler is. No one has bothered to ask about the collective costs that the problem gamblers impose on themselves - until now.

“The loss from problem gambling is only partly the large financial losses. More importantly there is a loss in well-being associated with being a problem gambler. It is one thing to feel bad about losing money accidentally, but real damage comes from having wasted money that could have been spent on fun, the kids, or on the essentials of life.”

“Overall we found that if we had a magic wand and could make problem gambling vanish we would be collectively better off by as much as if GNP had got £30 billion bigger. Sadly however there is no magic wand and tackling the problem is likely to be expensive work. Problem gambling is the Cinderella of addictions and what the UK spends on tackling problem gambling is a tiny fraction of what is spent on alcohol abuse issues.”

“The obvious way of reducing gambling spend is through higher taxation. But we don’t know much about how much taxes would have to be to make a big dent in spending. And even if we did, this would be a sledgehammer that would hit the vast majority of gamblers who don't have a problem, and it may not make much of a dent in the tiny minority of gambling addicts, for the very reason that they are addicts.

“Educating young people of the dangers will be important – just as we do for other forms of risky behaviour – as well as ensuring that players are aware of the odds; traffic lights for gambling products just as we have them for our foodstuffs.”