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  • Press release
  • 15th Sep 2021

Behavioural Insights Team launches Gambling Policy & Research Unit

Unit will partner with stakeholders to ensure UK regulations effectively reduce gambling harms

LONDON 15 SEPTEMBER 2021 — The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), one of the world’s leading behavioural science research and consultancy organisations, has today launched the Gambling Policy & Research Unit, a dedicated team of specialists with a mandate to develop and rigorously test methods and approaches that will significantly reduce harms in the UK’s £14 billion gambling market.

The launch of the new unit was announced this week at the International Association of Gaming Regulators 2021 Conference by BIT Americas Managing Director Michael Hallsworth who was one of the guest speakers at the event, the largest gathering of its kind of the people who regulate the gambling industry from all around the world. 

The Gambling Policy & Research Unit is being funded through the regulatory settlements for socially responsible purposes which are approved by the Gambling Commission. It will sit within BIT’s Economic Policy team and be led by Aisling Ní Chonaire, Head of Consumer and Business Markets. Since 2017 this team has been working with a diverse group of partners including HSBC, Monzo, bet365, GambleAware and others to show how behavioural insights can play a critical role in reducing gambling related harms, including:

In addition BIT has led the way with its partners in analysing bank data to understand gambling behaviour better than existing data. This is often limited to self-reporting from gamblers and companies and as a result does not provide the same level of insight into harmful gambling behaviours. 

The launch of the Gambling Policy & Research Unit builds on this extensive body of work at a very salient time as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport is currently reviewing the Gambling Act which was passed in 2005. The gambling industry has grown dramatically over the past 10 years having been worth £8.36bn in 2008/09, compared to £14bn in 2019/20.

The Gambling Policy & Research Unit will utilise the full range of BIT’s expertise and resources including data science and data analysis, qualitative research, trials, policy advice and recommendations, and developing and testing messaging for information campaigns. For example it will: 

  • Work with key stakeholders to design and scale successful interventions across the gambling market such as with banks and the financial services sector to help them understand, identify and support their most at-risk customers.
  • Build evidence for policy and regulatory advice and changes through a database of ‘what works’ that can be replicated and iterated globally.
  • Explore instances where gambling is influenced and intersects with other sectors, to inform cutting-edge solutions.

As with BIT’s activity to date in this area, the Gambling Policy & Research Unit is actively looking to partner with interested stakeholders across the whole spectrum of those directly or indirectly connected to gambling, from gambling operators to banks, advertisers to video game producers, consumer advocacy groups to treatment organisations.

Today the UK is the largest regulated gambling market in the world, worth over £14 billion per year and contributing £3 billion in tax. Around 47% of the population has gambled in the last four weeks. Overall gambling participation (in the last 12 months) increases from an estimated 54% in 17 year olds, to 68% by age 20. Online gambling, about 40% of the total market, saw the largest increase in participation between 2015 and 2019 amongst 25-34 year olds.

The vast majority of people who gamble will not experience any serious negative impact from their behaviour, however the 2018 Health Survey for England estimated that over 1.75 million people could be classed as ‘at-risk gamblers’.

Someone experiencing problem gambling on average negatively affects six other people, and estimates of the costs to the public purse directly attributable to gambling covering areas such as mental health care provision, inpatient services, Job Seekers Allowance and lost productivity, homelessness assistance and incarceration range from a low of £260 million to a high of £1.16 billion per year. And this of course doesn’t include the financial and social impacts on the individuals concerned and the people around them.

Nida Broughton, BIT’s Director of Economic Policy, said: “Behavioural effects fundamentally shape our choices over how much we spend, what we buy, and how we spend our time, and so are crucial to understanding and tackling gambling harms. The new Gambling Policy & Research Unit will allow us to develop and test brand new ideas to reduce the psychological, social and financial impacts of problem gambling on families so we can help make the UK not only the largest regulated gambling market in the world but also the most safely regulated.”

Tim Miller, Gambling Commission Executive Director, said: “Tackling gambling harms is at heart of our work as a regulator. The pilots that BIT will run will be an important step in identifying approaches that can make a real difference in reducing harms. That is why we were happy to approve funding for a project which will offer insights that can be drawn on by all partners to the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.”