Cards on the table: The cost to government associated with people who are problem gamblers in Britain


Gambling is a common feature of the everyday lives of many people across Great Britain, with up to three-quarters of adults estimated to gamble to some degree each year. While the vast majority gamble with no significant negative consequences, a minority – ‘problem gamblers’ – gamble to an extent which can seriously damage or disrupt their family, personal and working lives. Between 0.4 and 1.1 per cent of the British population are estimated to be problem gamblers. That’s up to 1 in every 90 adults.

There is a strong moral case for government to be concerned with this, as problem gambling acts to entrench and exacerbate socioeconomic disadvantages by disproportionately affecting individuals on low incomes and those with comorbid health problems. However, there is also a strong economic case. Problem gambling can be associated with a number of adverse impacts on the lives of individual problem
gamblers, meaning they require higher rates of access to certain public services and provisions.

Based on the availability of data, it is possible to estimate a cost to government associated with individuals who are problem gamblers
across six specific interactions with the state:
• health costs: primary care (mental health) services; secondary mental health services; and hospital inpatient services
• welfare and employment costs: JSA claimant costs and lost labour tax receipts
• housing costs: statutory homelessness applications
• criminal justice costs: incarcerations

Based on these six interactions, an illustrative estimate for the excess fiscal costs incurred by individuals who are problem gamblers is between £260 million to £1.16 billion per year (for Great Britain as a whole). This amount should be taken as the first step along the journey to understanding the total cost to government of problem gambling in Great Britain, and the starting point for future estimates as more data is collected.

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