A sister piece to The gambler's tale.
In research for the The Friend magazine, I attempt to shed some light on this question using recent data from the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF), a survey of household expenditure patterns conducted on approximately 6,000 households per year.In 2008-9 (the most recent two-year period for which data have been published), 46 per cent of households spent anything at all on gambling during the fortnightly diary period for which their expenditure details were recorded, whereas 54 per cent were non-gamblers. This is a decline from the start of the last decade; in 2001, 60 per cent of households in the LCF survey spent something on gambling.
The likelihood of being a gambler varies with household income, with poorer households being less likely to gamble. Dividing households into ten equally sized ‘deciles’ from poorest to richest in terms of disposable income (adjusted for household size), only a third of households in the poorest decile were gamblers, compared with over half of households in the sixth, seventh and eighth deciles.
For a detailed look at where gambling industry revenues are coming from, it is necessary to look at how much expenditure in the LCF survey is accounted for by the ‘heaviest’ gamblers – those households who spend the most of all on gambling. Gambling expenditure in the LCF survey is highly concentrated among the heaviest gambling households. Out of all the households who spent anything at all on gambling, the ten per cent of households with the highest spending on gambling accounted for 58 per cent of total gambling expenditure in 2008-09. Meanwhile, the very highest spenders – the top two per cent of households with the highest gambling expenditure – accounted for 38 per cent of gambling expenditure.
If the LCF survey is an accurate representation of gambling across the UK, this means that around 250,000 households – about one percent of the households in the UK – account for almost four in every ten pounds of gambling revenue.
Furthermore, the share of gambling expenditure accounted for by the heaviest gambling households has risen over time; in 2001, the heaviest two per cent of gambling households accounted for only 16 per cent of gambling expenditure. Within the overall gambling total, bookmaking and casino gambling are much more concentrated among heavy gamblers (the top two percent of gambling households accounted for 67 per cent of expenditure in 2008-09), while lottery and scratchcard spending are much less heavily concentrated.
In summary, my research suggests that over the last decade the gambling industry has relied increasingly on a small number of high-spending gamblers to generate a large proportion of its revenues, particularly in the case of bookmaking and casino gambling. Policymakers should bear this evidence in mind when reviewing regulation for the gambling industry and considering how much public funding to allocate to treatment for gambling addiction.