An Assessment of the Existing Landscape of Longitudinal Data Collection Related to Gambling

Published in: Action against Gambling Harms website (2022)

Posted on RAND.org on January 25, 2022

by Silvia Galimberti, Rachel Hesketh, Emma Disley

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Longitudinal data on gambling is vital for understanding the scale of the issue and informing the policy response.

Public Health England estimated that 40 per cent of the adult population of England gambled in 2018, rising to more than 50 per cent when the National Lottery is included. While for many people gambling will be little more than a recreational activity, for others it will be associated with substantial harms. These include financial impacts, implications for mental and physical health, employment, education, cultural harms, relationship disruption and links to criminal activity.

A lack of data presents a significant barrier to understanding the harms associated with gambling in the UK context. A 2021 assessment by the Policy Institute for Action Against Gambling Harms concluded that the lack of longitudinal data, which observes the same individuals over time, makes it difficult to reach firm conclusions about the nature of the relationship between gambling and negative outcomes for gamblers. Similarly, Public Health England recently highlighted that 'most of the studies published on gambling and harm do not allow us to determine that gambling came before the harm'.

Longitudinal studies have a unique ability to shed light on individual gambling trajectories—movements between different gambling states, including into and out of problem gambling. Cross-sectional prevalence data cannot offer this insight. This is because a stable gambling prevalence rate cannot distinguish between the same group of individuals gambling over time or different individuals gambling at different times, or something in between. To understand how people's gambling behaviour changes over time (and to make inferences about why), the same individuals must be followed over time.

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