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Review of gambling legislation highlights lack of commitment to addressing gambling harms

Globally, governments are still not doing enough to address the health and wellbeing harms from gambling, according to a world first review led by the University of Glasgow.

‘Public health approaches to gambling: A global review of legislative trends’ found that although gambling harms are increasingly recognised in legislation around the world, there appears to be a lack of willingness among policy makers to address them in a meaningful way. There is also an overwhelming focus on controlling individual consumers, rather than controlling the gambling industry.

The review, which was undertaken in collaboration with the University of Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Addiction, Control, and Governance, gathered data from countries that have introduced major legislative changes to gambling between 2018-2021.

A report has been shared in an article published by The Lancet Public Health, the world’s leading public health journal.

Project Investigator Dr Daria Ukhova, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Social and Political Sciences, said:

“Harmful gambling is widely recognised as a health and wellbeing issue, with impacts that can be devastating, including heightened risk of suicide attempts and high levels of indebtedness. We see from other areas, such as tobacco and alcohol, that effective prevention of harms often requires strict control of the industry and of the environment in which these products are provided. Our review suggests that this learning has not yet translated into action on gambling harms.

“Our findings show that even in contexts where gambling harms have been recognised at the legislative level, the overarching focus has been on individual-level harms rather than harms to others and/or wider social and economic harms. Relatedly, the foci of harm prevention policies have been on ‘encouraging’ individual control and responsibility, rather than on regulating gambling industry practices and product design.”

The Centre for Research on Addiction, Control, and Governance at the University of Helsinki were the first experts to recommend a global approach be taken to reviewing gambling legislation.

Dr Virve Marionneau, from the University of Helsinki, said:

“A comparative understanding of different legislative and regulatory approaches to gambling harms is crucial. Gambling causes severe harms globally, but policy responses to these harms have been scattered and unstandardised. Our findings support policymakers by providing recommendations for long-term policy directions, interjurisdictional collaboration, and strategic planning on how to address gambling as a public health issue in national legislation and globally.”

Examples from other countries are particularly important in situations of important legislative change, a process that is lengthy and complex.

Dr Ukhova said:

“Once enshrined, gambling legislation can be incredibly difficult to change. The policy cycle is long and can last for years; legislation that is being written today could still be in place for at least another decade.

“Ultimately, if governments are serious about addressing the health issues that arise from gambling harms, they need to stop paying lip service to making changes and get serious about adopting systemic solutions to how gambling is provided – and promoted – in their respective countries.”

This research is intended to inform the Lancet Public Health Commission on Gambling, which aims to set progressive agenda to guide action to reduce gambling harms and protect people from these harms. In the UK, this is backed by evidence from recent research linking difficulties in gambling to heightened suicidality in young adults, and into the impact of marketing on gambling behaviours.

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