Sunday, 15 April 2012

British Gambling Prevalence Survey - Why the basic math should concern the British Government

The 2011 British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) reported that problem gambling levels as a percentage of adult population rose from 0.6 - 0.9% between 2007 and 2010. There are two ways to interpret this data. One can contextualise the data by comparing problem gambling prevalance rates in the UK to other countries e.g. UK problem gambling prevalence rates are lower than in other countries, such as Australia and the US, and similar to Germany and Norway. One can also look at the absolute increase and say a 0.3% increase is a very small increase in the grand scheme of things, and also caveat the results by stipulating they were at the 'margins of statistical significance'.

The other way to interpret these results is to think about them in the context of basic arithmetic. In a YouTube video that has had over 4 million hits, Albert Bartlett explains what he believes is the greatest shortcoming of the human race - Our Inability to Understand The Exponential Function. Let's apply some of this basic math to the BGPS results with a high-level analysis of the headline figures.

The UK problem gambling prevalence increase from 2007 - 2010 equates to around 14.5% per year. The prevalence survey also states the rate of problem gambling in the UK population remained constant at 0.6% between 1999 - 2007. If we take the annual increase using this period too, the increase to 2010 was around 3.8% per year. If we assume the UK adult population will grow at 0.58% per year, and if we look to 2018, the best case scenario is that UK problem gambling prevalence rate will have increased over 40% to around 650,000 adults (greater than 1.2% of the total adult population), the worst case scenario is the prevalence rates will have tripled to 2.7% (if the trends in the most recent BGPS continue). If we assume the true growth rate is somewhere in between (e.g. the median of the two rates, around 9%), the projected problem gambling prevalence rate will be at 1.6% of the total adult population by 2018. If we also assume that the UK government will not limit gambling supply and that funding to tackle research and education will remain relatively flat (based on the previous 3 years), whichever way you look at it using basic arithmetic, the UK is on course to have the same levels of problem gambling prevalence as those very same countries that today we point to to make the current UK rates look relatively low.