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UK Gambling Habits: An Exploration
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UK Gambling Habits: An Exploration

By guest writer, Ayesha Salim

An Overview

Gambling is a huge part of the UK’s culture and most people in Britain have gambled in one way or another. Technological advances have opened up new opportunities for the young and the old to easily gamble online whether it be by playing a simple game of bingo or placing a bet online.

Most anti-gambling campaigners argue that gambling is becoming a major issue in Britain with Britons spending far in excess to what they can actually afford. The young are also at risk of getting influenced by gambling advertisements and with easy access to gambling online, are being pulled in by the masses. This article will examine gambling habits of the UK population, the growth of online gambling amongst young professionals, and the level of problem gambling in Britain.

What is Really Going On?

household budget

It is important to consider how prevalent gambling is in UK households. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average household in the UK spent [1] £166 last year on gambling, up 50 pence on the previous year. It appears that households are spending more money a week on gambling than on other leisure activities, such as going to the cinema, theatre or museum.

A survey conducted by the Gambling Commission asked respondents if they have participated in at least one form of gambling in the previous four weeks. The latest [2]results show that 55% of the UK gambles, down from 57% in 2012. Young adults are also joining this trend as they are now almost 5% more likely to gamble than they were a year ago.

Why is Gambling so Popular?

Gambling has always been a popular source of entertainment in Britain’s culture. However, it was due to the Gambling Act [3], passed in 2005, which allowed companies to advertise in the UK that led to the explosive growth of gambling. The aim of the Act was to protect children and vulnerable people, but critics fear that the legislation has only escalated problem gambling

The biggest change that came under the Act allowed casinos, bookmakers and online betting sites to advertise their services on TV and radio in the UK for the first time. As a result, the total number[4] of gambling advertisement spots shown on television increased from 152,000 in 2006 to 1.39 million in 2012.

Interestingly, the largest number of adverts were about bingo, which research suggests is more popular among women than other forms of gambling.

Online Gambling

The growth of smartphones and tablets now means that people can gamble at ease whenever and wherever they want. Last year it was predicted there would be nine million [5]Britons that would gamble online. The rise of mobility now means that gambling on mobile has become more mainstream and is engaging new customers.

In a recent survey [6] that explored how Britons use mobile devices to gamble, it was revealed that 87% of players would recommend playing mobile entertainment gambling games to friends, family and colleagues. The survey also revealed that 26.9% of participants play and bet on their mobile device more than three times a week.

The popularity of online betting is also growing, particularly amongst young working professionals. It has been reported[7] that 25-34 year olds are the most active gamblers in the UK. Perhaps this is because young professionals are assumed to be more tech savvy, and are more likely to use mobile devices to gamble rather than visiting race tracks or high street betting shops.

Why Do People Gamble?

thrill gambling

People gamble for a whole range of reasons. Most are driven by the adrenaline rush and the thrill of risk-taking. But what do people look for when deciding where to gamble? One report[8] analysed important drivers that influence where people gamble online. It was found that people were most attracted to an easy user experience, followed by the quality of the game and being offered regular discounts.

Interestingly, it seems that people are influenced by other factors besides advertising influence, while placing a bet online. The same report found that alongside advertising influence, corporate responsibility is a major factor for the British public. It revealed that nearly half of current online gamblers (45 per cent) say they’d be likely to place a bet with a gambling website if they knew that the brand behind it was contributing financially to the research, education and treatment of problem gambling.

Moreover, it seems that Britons are aware of their spending limits and are more willing to gamble on a website that imposes limits[9] on spending. People are also driven to gambling websites by word of mouth, either in person or via social media. The brand name also rated highly as a key influence in which site they selected to gamble.

Most Popular Types of Gambling

In the latest survey[10] conducted by the Gambling Commission, bingo and lottery draws are the most popular form of gambling. In fact, while there has been an increase in search volumes for online sports betting, bingo remains the most[11] searched-for-keyword within the gambling industry. But as mentioned earlier in the article, bingo remains more popular amongst women. In 2010 it was estimated [12]that 12% of women in the UK played online bingo regularly compared to 6% of men.

There are various reasons for why bingo is more popular among women than men. Some suggest it is because many of the sites use colours that specifically attract women, like pink or purple. Others say this is because bingo is not perceived as a true gambling game, as only minimal amounts of money are spent. Prizes are not huge either, although it is possible to win big sums of money.

But a recent report[13] shed light on a popular form of gambling for both the sexes in the 25-34 age category: horse racing. Surprisingly, this was a popular form of betting for women across all age groups. For men, horse racing betting also accounted for 63% of their activity.

Youngsters also seem to be getting in on the action, according to the findings of the report. The male category of 18-24 came out top when it came to actual sports betting. This supports the view that younger working professionals are becoming active gamblers.

Problem Gambling

There is a growing concern that the number of gambling addicts is increasing in the UK. It was recently reported[14] that the number of people in danger of becoming problem gamblers has reached nearly a million, while hardcore addicts have doubled in six years to almost 500,000.

These statistics portray a worrying picture with some believing gambling is as serious an issue as alcoholism. So what do people really think about gambling and why do they do it? A survey[15] was conducted to analyse this issue and found that the majority of people gamble at least once a year (73% of the population) and more people are gambling more often. Many people said they gamble for fun and for the chance of winning ‘big money’.

Interestingly, the largest increase in gambling occurred among women, where rates have increased from 65% in 2007 to 71% in 2010. Men are still more likely than women to gamble, but more women than before buy scratchcards (25%), take part in other lotteries (25%), play slot machines (10%) and gamble online on bingo, casino or slot machine style games (4%).

These numbers might indicate a cause of concern for British gamblers. But new research conducted by Harvard University has found no evidence that online casinos create more problem gamblers than any other form of gambling. In fact, it appears that online gamblers exhibit more restraint than previously thought.

gambling addiction

The researchers at Harvard University collected and analysed[16] the data of tens of thousands sports bettors, online casino gamblers, and poker players over a period of two years. It was found that only a tiny minority of players (between 1%-5%) exhibited “intense gambling behaviour that far exceeded the rest of the sample.” Perhaps the effects of exposure to gambling the internet offers are not as extreme as one may think. Some people may feel excited by the prospect of online betting only to lose interest a few weeks later.

The rise of smartphones and tablets means that Britons have easier and quicker access to gambling than ever before. Some blame the increase in gambling advertisements in attracting young people that previously would never have thought about gambling.

Despite rising concerns, attitudes towards gambling are changing as people believe they have the freedom to do whatever they choose. The industry is also introducing a new code of practice to ensure more people bet responsibly.


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