WHO Forum on Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours

Regulatory approaches to gambling
Prevention strategies and interventions 

Speakers: Dr Angela Rintoul, Prof Henrietta Bowden Jones, Prof David Hodgins and Dr Heather Wardle 

Written by Dr. Tanya Calvey.

There is an overall paucity of research in the field of gambling which urgently needs to be addressed. Specifically, there is a need for more evidence in the epidemiology of gambling, indicators of burden of disease and harms associated with gambling. These are likely country- and culture-specific. Gambling disorder is associated with comorbid mental health issues, suicide, drug and nicotine addictions and early life trauma. The associated harms are wide ranging, are of similar magnitude to major depression and AUD and exacerbate inequality. 

There is a need  to develop specific and evidence-based screening and intervention with a public health approach. Regarding treatment, 98% of face-to-face interventions in the UK consist of non-evidence based interventions. Findings from the Alberta gambling research institute indicate that only 10-15% of gamblers seek treatment, although 60% of gamblers have tried to stop in last year and most tried to stop on their own. There are online resources available that promote self-recovery such as problemgambling.ca and gamblinghelp.com yet there seems to be a need to draw individuals with gambling disorders into treatment. Additional issues raised were around terms such as ‘responsible gambling’ and ‘problem gambling’ highlighting an overall need to address shame and stigma associated with gambling disorders. 

Heather Wardle from the University of Glasgow is involved with the Lancet public health commission on gambling. She emphasizes that gambling requires special consideration when dealing with industry as it is not an ordinary commodity. Gambling behaviour is shaped by corporate and political powers. Technology evolution now means AI algorithms target gamblers and there is an overlap with gaming disorders. COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem as it has led to liberalizing policies and poor regulation.

Prof Bowden Jones shared that new work is being done to regulate gaming software and she directed the forum to the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling. 

In the UK there is a 1% levy on gambling to allow NHS to conduct research which should be the case in all countries. There is also the issue on whether or not gambling should be advertised, as many experts belief that it shouldn’t be. 

Her summary and overall advice for the regulation of gambling is as follows:

  1. No free bets
  2. No targeting players
  3. Evidence based treatment
  4. Reducing amounts players can stake online