Problem gambling ‘takes a £30bn toll on nation’s happiness’, says study

Survey identifies lower levels of wellbeing experienced by problem gamblers in the UK, who number as many as a third of a million people

Can you put a price on misery? When it comes to problem gambling the answer, apparently, is yes.

A team of economists has calculated that if the UK’s hundreds of thousands of problem gamblers were to be cured of their addictions, the boost to the nation’s collective happiness would be equivalent to a £30bn windfall.

The work, based on an analysis of 10,000 adult gamblers presented at last week’s Royal Economic Society’s annual conference, suggests that around 0.7% of adults, about a third of a million people, are now classified as problem gamblers.

The research found that problem gamblers reported much lower levels of wellbeing. “This loss in wellbeing is only partly the large financial losses that spending disproportionately on such products implies,” said Ian Walker, professor of economics at Lancaster University, who led the research. “One can feel bad about losing money accidentally, but one can feel a lot worse from having wasted money deliberately – money that could have been spent on having fun, on the kids, or on the essentials of life.”

When respondents were asked to give their happiness levels out of 10, the results were striking. “Those who weren’t problem gamblers said, on average, a pretty happy 7.95,” Walker said. “Those who were said a miserable 6.25. This difference of 1.7 is huge.”

Walker and his colleagues calculate that doubling income would only raise happiness by about half a point. From this, they estimate that a problem gambler would need around an extra £90,000 a year – about three times the average household income – to become as happy as someone who was not a problem gambler.

Previous research into gambling has tended to focus on the impact it has on other people. “But no one has bothered to ask this question about the costs that the problem gamblers themselves suffer – until now,” Walker said. “If we could eliminate problem gambling, happiness would rise by as much as it would if we were collectively financially better off by about £30bn a year. This is around 2% of GNP, a huge number – on a par with the harms due to alcohol, which receive a lot of policy action. Yet spending on dealing with problem gambling is a tiny fraction of spending that deals with alcohol issues.”

The Guardian


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