Last week (11 January 2023), the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) published a report into the economic cost of gambling-related harm in England, an updated version of the original study published by its predecessor in September 2021.
For the update, OHID carried out a full review of the methodology for the suicide and depression estimates, given these have the largest contribution to the overall cost.
The report brings together evidence on gambling prevalence, harms and costs to estimate the annual economic burden of harmful gambling in England.
The table reproduced below shows OHID’s estimate that the annual excess direct financial cost to government associated with harmful gambling is equivalent to £412.9 million. It also shows the estimate for the annual societal value of health impacts is equivalent to between £635 and £1,355.5 million (in 2021 to 2022 prices). This provides a combined estimate of approximately £1.05 to £1.77 billion.
OHID acknowledges that there are a range of costs that have not, or have only been partially quantified here (such as crime, education, cultural harms, impacts on relationships and wider impacts on the families of gamblers) and says that, for these reasons, the overall estimate is likely to be an underestimate of the true scale of the total economic burden associated with harmful gambling.
The abbreviated systematic review of harms associated with gambling found a substantial body of evidence (over 300 studies), but the majority of studies were not quantitative or were not in a form conducive to analysis of costs related to harmful gambling. To address the limitations and draw more complete estimates of the direct and indirect costs of gambling-related harms, OHID recommends that future research should aim to expand the depth and breadth of the evidence base on people experiencing gambling-related harms in England.
There are several evidence gaps identified throughout the study but there are three areas OHID recommends be prioritised:
Financial harms to the individual
The literature review found that gambling-related debut is a crucial harm and a mediator for other harms such as relationship problems, physical and mental health problems and crime. However, gaps need to be filled to conduct a costing analysis for financial harms to the individual, such as evidence that estimates the extent of financial harm experienced by those engaging in harmful gambling compared to those not engaging in harmful gambling.
The evidence also needs to show how this is broken down by age, sex, income and other variables, as well as data to estimate the rates of bankruptcies and use of debt services for people who participate in harmful gambling compared with the general adult population.
Prevalence of gambling related deaths by suicide
In this area, OHID says that more accurate estimates would be possible if the prevalence data on gambling related suicides in England was improved upon. Further evidence would also allow better estimation of the healthcare costs associated with suicidality, as well as other government costs associated with deaths by suicide like coroner’s costs.
Harm to affected others (both economic and social).
Despite a body of evidence of the negative impact on those around a person experiencing harmful gambling identified in the abbreviated systematic review of harms associated with gambling, OHID was unable to assess the estimated economic and social costs associated with these gambling related harms due to a lack of evidence quantifying the resulting impacts on individual health outcomes.
There is a clear need for evidence that quantifies the impact of harmful gambling on affected others, including family members, friends and close associates.
Higher quality evidence in these areas would allow for a closer estimate of the true scale of the total economic burden of harmful gambling.