Has the incidence of problem gambling really decreased?

There have been a number of recent reports in the media which have suggested that the incidence of problem gambling in NSW has decreased by a significant amount. The basis of these claims is a comparison of two studies which were endorsed by the federal and state governments.

The Australian Productivity Commission in its 1999 report into Australia's Gambling Industry found that around 2.1% of the adult Australian (2.5% in NSW) population have significant problems associated with gambling, using the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS) test. It found that around 1% of Australian adults have a severe gambling problem and a further 1.15% have a moderate problem.

The recent Prevalence of Gambling and Problem Gambling in NSW (PGPGNSW) study used the Canadian Problem Gambling Index (CPGI) and found that 0.8% of the NSW adult population are problem gamblers and a further 1.6% are considered moderate "at risk" gamblers. Note that some of these moderate "at risk" gamblers had self-excluded from gaming venues even though they didn't answer positively to enough questions to get into the 'problem gambler' category.

The two tests are different and look at different aspects of a persons gambling. The SOGS test is a comprehensive test, normally used by counsellors in treatment to determine whether the client is a problem gambler. The CPGI test is generally used for telephone surveys, is less comprehensive and only looks at the gambling habits of a person over the previous 12 months.

In addition, the recent prevalence study was half the size of the Productivity Commission, so it was less accurate. In fact the margin for error was plus or minus 2.2%.

The Productivity Commission combined people that have a severe gambling problem with those that have a moderate gambling problem to come up with its final percentage of 2.1%.

Some groups have recently been quoted as saying that the PGPGNSW study has found that there has been a significant decrease in problem gambling in NSW. They have justified this by comparing the Productivity Commissions statistic to the PGPGNSW statistic. They have failed to mention that both studies use different instruments to measure the statistics. In fact, if you combine the problem gambling group with the moderate at risk group (as the Productivity Commission did by combining severe problem gamblers with moderate risk gamblers) the statistic is 2.5% of the NSW adult population - the same combined statistic for the NSW population in the Productivity Commission study.

Regardless of whether the two studies are comparable, both studies show is that a proportion of the adult population in NSW are at risk of developing or already have a serious gambling problem. As such, it is important that gaming venues continue to provide support to problem gamblers and their families through programs such as BetSafe.

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