UK newspaper uses statistics to play up gambling addiction

Well known for its sometimes sensationalised opposition to Internet gambling, the UK newspaper the Daily Mail this week sported headlines bellowing that "Nearly 200,000 'are hooked on online gambling'", going on to suggest that the Labour government's "lax" gaming laws have created nearly 15 000 new addicts in one year alone.

The newspaper came to this conclusion by taking survey numbers from the UK Gambling Commission which show that 5.6 percent of over-16s had participated in ‘remote gambling’ in 2008, up from 5.2 percent in 2007. It's reporters then applied that percentage against the total population of the United Kingdom to arrive at a figure of 2.7 million online gamblers, which it reported was an increase of 198 000 from the previous year.

It then quoted unidentified experts as claiming that 7.4 percent of these players "will be problem gamblers" which would mean that the increase in addicted gamblers would, from the Daily Mail's perspective, amount to 14 700 over last year.

What the newspaper failed to mention was that remote gambling per se has a low percentage increase, and that the biggest increase in gambling pertained to punters having a go on the National Lottery, a fact pointed out in another debate during the week by Britain's Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe. It also failed to mention that definitions of what practically constitutes addictive gambling or "possibly problem gambling behaviour" vary, and are notoriously imprecise and inconsistent - in some cases classifying people who bet more than twice a week as "at risk". And the fact that there has been an increase in the number of people gambling online does not necessarily guarantee a significant increase in addicted compulsive gamblers when calculated against the entire population of Great Britain.

Again quoting unidentified "separate figures" the Mail reports that these "suggest" that the average amount of debt for each problem gambler is GBP 17 500.

The Mail report ends by quoting the Conservative opposition political party, who opined that its findings were "clear evidence of the soaring levels of despair brought about by the Government’s controversial decision to ease betting laws to allow the first TV ads for casinos, bookmakers and gambling websites."

Playing poker and bingo over the internet has become increasingly popular, particularly among women, the newspaper noted.

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