The Gambling Commission has become ‘very concerned’ at what it sees as a significant increase in the misuse of statistics, as ‘different parties seek to make persuasive arguments’, according to an open letter from its chief executive Andrew Rhodes.
Various groups and individuals have been seeking to influence opinion during the development of the government’s gambling white paper, the letter states, adding that it is not the commission’s place to ‘referee’ the debate. ‘However, much as everyone is entitled to present their arguments, what is wholly unacceptable is the misuse of statistics to support that argument.’
The commission had seen misuse of statistics ‘from gambling operators, trade bodies, charities, media outlets, sporting venue owners and others’, the letter says. ‘The commission has even received (or has been copied into) complaints about the misuse of statistics by another party, where the complainant themselves has misused statistics in order to press their complaint. Others have sought to rely on data which the authors have said is not reliable enough to draw those conclusions. This is unacceptable. All parties seeking to rely on statistics to advance their arguments must do so accurately and in the correct context.’
The gambling white paper was published in April, nearly two and a half years after the government first launched its review of the 2005 Gambling Act, which was designed to update legislation for the ‘smartphone era’. The white paper’s proposals – which are subject to further consultation – include a mandatory levy on gambling firms, revised stake limits for online slots games and improved player protection. Controversially, however, it contained little on tightening restrictions around advertising and marketing.
The most common misuse of statistics has been around conflating problem gambling and gambling-related harm, Rhodes’ open letter states – ‘two separate, but linked, experiences’. While problem gambling – which means gambling that damages family or personal life – can be measured by a range of screening tools, there is currently no recognised measure of gambling-related harms, which refers to the adverse impact of gambling on individuals, families, communities and wider society. The commission will assume any misuse of official statistics to be accidental, it adds, and offer the chance to correct the record, after which it will consider referring the matter to the government’s Office for Statistics Regulation.
The commission is funded by fees paid by gambling businesses, which are set by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).
‘The debate around gambling is often a fierce one, but nobody is well-served by statistics being misused to further an argument,’ the letter states. ‘I therefore ask anyone commenting on this area to take a greater degree of care to ensure they are using evidence and statistics correctly, accurately and in the proper context and with any necessary caveats applied.’