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Research to inform action

To widen the research base and improve links between research and policy

Reducing gambling harms demands a much stronger link between research and policy, supported by a research programme that both informs and is informed by action, involves a wide range of agencies and researchers, and has the right research infrastructure to deliver it.

Historically, barriers to research have included practical considerations around accessing sufficient consistent and useful data on customers’ gambling activities, and ethical concerns about the source of funding for research.

The strategy is therefore prioritising steps towards the creation of a central data repository that would enable access to anonymous datasets for research. Over the long-term, this repository would streamline the process for accessing data for research purposes, accelerate the pace of research and open up access to a broader range of researchers.

The Gambling Commission’s governance and commissioning arrangements for its independent research programme have already broken the link between funding and commissioning research, and consideration will be given to the long-term research structures that are necessary, including the potential role of one or more research centres.

There is however a need to facilitate better application of the body of evidence to policy decisions. The Commission will be supported and challenged to do so by its independent advisors, the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling.

An independent research hub would enable an ever-increasing evidence base for policy, and therefore drive more effective action. It would also help map the needs for future research.

Interim steps by the Commission to share the evidence under its independent research programme will be critical, alongside working with partners to develop the longer-term approaches to a hub.

The Gambling Commission’s research programme is only part of the emerging picture on research to address gambling harms. It will be important that dissemination of research enables policy makers to take proper account of the research being conducted or planned by public health bodies in England, Wales and Scotland. This will also support the work by these partners to further develop a coordinated approach to research across the public sector.

Partnership actions

To explore a research hub to disseminate policy implications of research

Over time, the body of research to inform – and be informed by – the strategy will grow and create a more comprehensive evidence base to influence policy. An independent research hub to collate and disseminate research, and assess the impact of research on policy, would strengthen this link between research and action.

This could include all relevant research related to reducing gambling harms: as part of the Commission’s independent research programme, public health research, international research, and research undertaken by charities, treatment providers, experts by experience, the gambling industry and others.

Longer term, it will be important to assess the viability of a hub which is independently coordinated by experts.

Consider the use of one or more national research centres

As the strategy progresses, a clearer picture of how to create a research infrastructure in order to underpin and facilitate high quality research should emerge, and the role of national research centres as part of that infrastructure will be considered.

The Gambling Commission’s independent research programme separates the setting of priorities for research, from the funding for research, and is designed to support delivery of the strategy. As we learn more, the research programme will adapt and respond to continue to provide the evidence we need to find out what works to reduce gambling harms.

We will work with partners to establish a central repository of anonymised data to inform research.

To support the foundations for the data repository, the patterns of play research project will pilot the process of researchers identifying what data from online gambling should be collected to allow maximum benefit to inform action, and the Commission will drive progress with the industry to deliver that data. This early step towards a data repository will also be set alongside the results of a scoping exercise currently underway about how further phases could be implemented, and what governance arrangements should be put in place to do so.

As a first step towards a research hub, the strategy microsite will host key research, and for projects delivered under the Gambling Commission’s research programme, be the home of research briefs, published reports and an assessment of key policy implications that arise. In the first year of the strategy, the Commission will lead work to further embed the (PDF opens in the new window) harms framework, published in July 2018, through the research programme. This framework will help to develop a clear understanding of the hidden harms – and costs – of gambling, on resources, health and relationships.

Whilst we place a particular emphasis on the harms work to inform where preventative measures should be targeted, we are committed to other actions to make progress. These include driving live environment trials of preventative interventions as part of the research programme. Where these are industry-based, such as more proactive safer gambling messages to consumers, the design of products and games, and the availability and promotion of safer gambling tools, the Commission is well-placed to apply our regulatory powers to make progress and to work with those with lived experience on how best to achieve these goals.

The Commission regularly collect consumer data on gambling behaviour including problem gambling rates. This sits outside of the research programme and more information can be found on the Commission website

The (PDF opens in new window) research programme, owned by the Gambling Commission, is required to progress the delivery of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms and is based on six core research themes. These themes have been set on the advice of the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG). 

Theme 1 - Gambling-related harms: "We need to develop a way to comprehensively understand and measure the harms caused by gambling." 

Theme 2 - Patterns of play: "We need to understand how gambling behaviour varies across different products and environments, and which characteristics are most strong associated with harm." 

Theme 3: Changes in gambling behaviour over time: "We need to understand how gambling behaviour changes over time and why people move in and out of harmful play."

Theme 4: What works in harm-minimisation?: "We need to use evaluations to assess the effectiveness of interventions, and identify best practice in industry-based harm minimisation." 

Theme 5: Education and prevention: "We need to understand what works in preventative education through insights provided by research and evaluation." 

Theme 6: Treatment: "We need to understand what works in gambling treatment and build the evidence base to help formulate an effective and inclusive approach to treating gambling related harms." 

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These themes will enable us to be ambitious in our research objectives and deliver large scale projects which will provide robust evidence to feed into a complex, evolving policy environment and support the Evaluation enabler of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. It will allow the research to be commissioned through consortium teams which encourage the involvement of experts and specialists new to the field of gambling. 

Research governance

The Gambling Commission own the research programme and set the research questions on the advice of ABSG. Currently, the Commission and GambleAware both take responsibility for the commissioning of the research necessary to underpin the strategy. The majority of funding for commissioned research is either supplied voluntarily by the industry or becomes available through regulatory settlements.

The overall aim of this theme is to help us better understand the nature of gambling-related harms and how they can be reduced which will help us move away from simply identifying the number of problem gamblers within a population. Improving our understanding of gambling-related harms is the underpinning principle of the ‘Prevention and Education’ theme of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. We know that gambling-related harms take many forms, with negative impacts possible on peoples’ resources, relationships and health and include those experienced by other people, not just the gambler – including families, children of gamblers, employers, communities and society more generally. Harms can be temporary, episodic or longer term in nature, and can occur at all levels of gambling participation.

We know that harms from gambling can extend beyond the gambler to their friends, family, community and society. 

We need to develop a way to comprehensively measure the harms caused by gambling and their cost to society. 

This will allow us to understand the scale of the issue and whether we've successfully reduced harms, and more effectively target interventions.

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Research projects:

(PDF) Measuring gambling-related harms: A framework for action is a report published by the Gambling Commission, ABSG, and GambleAware. This report agreed a preliminary working definition of gambling-related harms and adapted models of how harms sit within broader eco-social and prevention models.

Measuring gambling-related harms – Methodologies & Data Scoping Study: Understanding and measuring gambling-related harms is one of the Gambling Commission’s top priorities. This study aims to scope different methodologies for estimating social costs of gambling-related harms and make recommendations as to which methods are most feasible.

This work is being completed by the Personal Social Services Research Unit and the London School of Economics. More information is available in the (PDF opens in the new window) Measuring Gambling-Related Harms –Methodologies & Data Scoping Study project brief.

Gambling-related suicide: Suicide is one of the most serious of the possible harms associated with gambling and one of the priority themes identified in the framework. Using existing data sets, this project focuses on providing insights into rates of suicides, suicide attempts, suicide ideation and self-harm which are associated with problem gambling. This will compare prevalence between those reporting different risk factors.

Work on this project has been conducted by Dr Heather Wardle and Swansea University. More information is available in the (PDF opens in the new window) Suicide project brief.

There are three outputs from this research, these are:

(PDF opens in the new window) Report 1: Problem gambling and suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and non-suicidal self-harm in England evidence from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007

(PDF opens in the new window)Report 2: Exploring problem gambling, loneliness and lifetime suicidal behaviours a cross-sectional study using the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007

(PDF opens in the new window)Report 3: Scoping Current Evidence and Evidence-Gaps in Research on Gambling-Related Suicide

(PDF opens in the new window) Measuring gambling-related harms among children and young people is a report published by Ipsos Mori and follows a similar approach to that set out in the framework for action, to develop a dedicated framework to measure harms experienced by children and young people. This includes developing and piloting a set of survey questions to improve our understanding of the dimensions of harm experienced by children as a result of their own or someone else’s gambling’.

We need to understand how patterns of play vary across different environments, products and characteristics. The research required in this area, as outlined in the ‘Research to inform action’ section of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, will help us better understand if, how and why some gambling products are more harmful than others. Answering these questions will involve analysis of real play data provided by the gambling industry, and linking it to data on the socio-economic, demographic and low-risk/moderate-risk/problem gambling status of gamblers using different products. To achieve this, all sectors of the gambling industry will need to regularly share data and make it available for research.

We also aim to establish an open repository for industry data, which would allow data to be collected and retained on an ongoing basis for harm-minimisation and research purposes. This is a complex task, but will contribute efficiencies and benefits to researchers, industry, policy-makers and other key stakeholders. It will enable multiple research projects to be conducted from the same datasets and minimise the burden placed on both the industry and research participants.

We have a reasonable understanding of patterns of play on certain types of gaming machine, but this has been limited to play with sessions. 

We need to analyse industry data to explore how patterns of play vary across other products and environments, and which characteristics are most strongly associated with harm. 

This will help us to encourage safer play and target interventions and regulatory change where they will be most effective. 

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Research projects: 

Using industry data to understand patterns of play: This study will form phase 1 of our work to understand patterns of play, focussing on online gambling. It will involve an extensive analysis of real play data provided by online gambling companies, and surveys to link this data to socio-demographic data and problem gambling status.

This work is being delivered by NatCen and the University of Liverpool. More information is available in the (PDF opens in new window) understanding patterns of play project brief and (PDF opens in new window) invitation to tender (ITT).

Independent repository of gambling industry data – scoping study: As part of this programme of work we need to identify an approach to establishing an open repository to store data and make it available for further use.

The University of Leeds have been commissioned to conduct an initial scoping exercise reviewing data repository solutions.

Analysing bank transactional data: In addition to analysing industry data to explore patterns of play, we are also keen to learn more from bank transaction data. The aim of this work will be to better understand patterns of gambling transactions and how they might relate to wider financial behaviour. The research will also assess the use of blocking facilities which allow consumers to block transactions with gambling companies and support the prevention and education strand of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. 

The Behavioural Insights Team have been commissioned to complete this project. More information is available in the (PDF opens in new window) analysing bank transactional data project brief.

Existing population surveys such as the Health Surveys and Welsh Problem Gambling Survey are effective at monitoring rates of gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling. They are limited, however, in exploring how gamblers’ behaviour changes over time. It is increasingly recognised that gambling behaviour can be fluid and variable, where changes in intensity of engagement over time are the norm and patterns of problematic gambling unstable. For this reason, longitudinal research is necessary to explore gambling trajectories, including movement in and out of problem gambling status.

We envisage the findings of this longitudinal research will ultimately be used to inform the development of safer gambling policy and enable us to better understand where policy changes should be targeted. It will also inform the development of effective prevention and treatment approaches. However, we also recognise that we will need help understanding how the findings will inform policy.

We know that harmful gambling can be episodic and is often non-linear as people move in and out of harmful play.

We need to understand how gambling behaviour changes over time, and why some people move in and out of harmful play whilst others do not.

This will allow us to make gambling safer by learning from gamblers who continue to play safely, and exploring the triggers that can lead to harm. 

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Research projects:

Longitudinal scoping review: In order to develop a longitudinal study of this kind, we have commissioned a scoping study to conduct a rapid consultation and explore the methodological options for conducting longitudinal research and make recommendations on which approach or approaches will most effectively answer the research questions.

The consultation and review have been completed by NatCen and Dr Heather Wardle. More information is available in the (PDF opens in new window) Longitudinal scoping invitation to tender (ITT).

The final report will be published as part of the brief for the delivery phase of the longitudinal research.

Through the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, the Commission sets an expectation that the gambling industry should evaluate the impact of the interventions and harm-minimisation tools they develop. With Collaboration as a key strategy enabler, we encourage the use of collaborative pilots (established with industry input) to test interventions, evaluate their effectiveness, and identify good practice. This will enable us to collectively improve our understanding of which interventions work, for whom, and in what circumstances.

There are some areas where evaluations are being led by the Commission, working in conjunction with ABSG and GambleAware. We intend to use evaluations from across the industry to generate good practice principles and consolidate the key lessons learnt to enable ongoing improvement of both interventions and evaluations.

There has been some piloting by operators of new interventions and approaches to harm-minimisation. 

We now need to make better use of evaluations to understand the effectiveness of interventions, and identify best practice in harm minimisation. 

This will help to identify which interventions work, for whom, and under what circumstances. 

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Research projects:

Evaluation of the impact of Multi-Operator Self-Exclusion Schemes and awareness and barriers to self-exclusion: This is an evaluation of all of the multi-operator self-exclusion schemes. This work will also provide insight into self-exclusion from individual operators.

It will evaluate gamblers’ awareness and perception of self-exclusion, and of the multi-operator schemes; and whether there are barriers to participating in these schemes.  It will obtain insight from MOSES users about their experience using the schemes to inform impact assessments and will revisit gamblers’ awareness of self-exclusion and barriers once the schemes have been embedded.

Phase one is being conducted by Ipsos Mori. More information is available in the (PDF opens in new window) Evaluation of the impact of Multi-Operator Self Exclusion Schemes project brief and (PDF opens in new window) and invitation to tender (ITT).

Applying Behavioural Insights to Reduce Problem Gambling: This research involves exploring the ways that behavioural science can be used to reduce harmful play online.

The first phase of this work used a variety of research methods including semi-structured interviews, a mystery shopping exercise, and analysis operator data to explore ways of reducing risky play in online environments. It also tested behavioural science informed messages with two operators (Sky Betting & Gaming and Bet365) for those identified as at-risk with the aim of increasing uptake of Responsible Gambling tools.

This work was delivered by the Behavioural Insights Team. Read the (PDF opens in new window) full Behavioural Insights Team report. 

The second phase of this work involves piloting and evaluating the effectiveness of two interventions to reduce risky play across the industry.

Developing gambling industry best-practice for harm-minimisation: Safer gambling messaging: Revealing Reality are building on their previous research into (PDF opens in new window ) collaborative innovation to identify good practice and inspire change with a new phase of work focused on safer gambling messaging. Working with operators from a variety of sectors, safer gambling messages will be developed, tested and refined to produce recommendations and good practice guidance for industry. Depending on findings, there will then be the potential for a large-scale pilot, which would be evaluated by the Behavioural Insights Team.

In principle, prevention of harm is better than cure. The role of education therefore, as a key form of prevention, needs to be better understood. This will provide the evidence to inform the development of a collective and clear prevention plan, as set out in the new National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, which identifies the right mix of interventions to be applied at both the population and individual level. This will need to consider approaches suitable for mainstream audiences, groups which are particularly vulnerable to harm, and children and young people.

We know that education is relatively effective at improving knowledge and changing attitudes, but evidence of behaviour change is inconclusive. 

We need to understand what works in preventative education through insights provided by research and evaluation. 

This will help us to develop a national strategic plan to make that preventative education is delivered in the most effective way. 

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Research projects:

Understanding the impact of advertising on children, young people and vulnerable people: This project will explore the content and tone of gambling marketing and advertising and its effect on behaviour and perceptions of children, young people, and vulnerable people.  It will assess whether there are specific characteristics of advertising that are particularly harmful to these groups. Improving our understanding in this area will help us explore whether changes to the way gambling products are advertised could prevent harm.

This (PDF opens in new window) research has been completed by a consortium led by Ipsos Mori and the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling. More information is available in the (PDF opens in new window) advertising project brief and (PDF) advertising ITT. 

The final phase of the research and subsequent findings will focus more on the impact of gambling marketing and advertising on children, young people and vulnerable people and will be published later in 2019.

Treatment and Support remains at the heart of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms as one of the two strategic priorities. As part of the research programme, we need to make sure that the treatment available to those who need it is effective and accessible. This applies to treatment provided by GambleAware-funded services, whilst also recognising that people may need support with issues related to gambling in other settings – including mainstream healthcare or wider addiction services (e.g. alcohol, substance abuse and misuse) or debt advice.

More research is needed on what works in treatment – a programme of research is already underway and it will be important that we apply the findings to future commissioning decisions, and find more ways to combine research with treatment to understand what works, and for whom.

GambleAware has developed improved systems to gather data to inform the commissioning of treatment. 

We need to understand what works in gambling treatment and build the evidence base to inform an effective and inclusive approach to treating gambling-related harms. 

This will inform a national strategic plan to provide the right kind of treatment where it is most needed, in the most effective way. 

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Research projects:

Systematic Review of Effective Treatment for Gambling: This project will deliver a review of international evidence on treatment and support for gambling problems, ranging from primary care to specialist services and brief to intensive interventions, in order to identify the efficacy of these interventions. This research will help us understand what interventions work best, for whom and why, and will ultimately inform the range of treatment services currently offered by GambleAware. 

This work is being completed by the University of Huddersfield. More information is available in the (PDF opens in new window) project brief and (PDF opens in new window) ITT.

Treatment delivery gap analysis: This project involves a needs assessment of the current provision to determine where needs are, and are not, being met. This research is intended to describe the nature of unmet need in terms of geography, demographics and severity of harm. The findings will be used by policy makers to inform future commissioning and fundraising decisions.  

This work is being conducted by ACT Recovery and NatCen. More information is available in the (PDF opens in new window) project brief and (PDF opens in new window) and invitation to tender (ITT.)

Evaluation of GambleAware funded treatment system: an independent evaluation of the current treatment and support system for those affected by difficulties with gambling, funded by GambleAware. The scope of this project is to evaluate the three main providers (and their partners) of GambleAware funded treatment and support, to demonstrate service quality and effectiveness in terms of treatment outcomes and cost-effectiveness; understand how services function together in a coherent national system; and assess GambleAware commissioning. It will involve developing a set of clear, practical and evidence-based recommendations for improvement.

More information is available in the (PDF opens in new window) treatment evaluation project brief and (PDF opens in new window) ITT