Imagine if we told you that 70% of people were not fully supportive of legal gambling in the UK. It would make for pretty stark reading—an indictment of the current state of the industry, perhaps. But what if we arrived at those statistics by surveying just 10 people, with 3 saying they didn’t want gambling to be legal, 3 saying they did, and the rest stating that they didn’t care?
Technically, the initial statement would be true, but it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of the UK population. What’s more, we could just as easily say, “70% of people are not interested in illegalising gambling”.
It’s an extreme example of statistics misuse, and it’s something you’ll find everywhere from angry threads on discussion boards to product advertisements (one of the best-known examples was Colgate’s “80% of dentists” claim back in 2007). It’s also something that we’re seeing a lot in the online gambling sector, and the UK Gambling Commission aren’t best pleased.
UKGC Open Letter on Statistic Misuse
On the 14th of August, Andrew Rhodes, the Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, published an open letter addressing the “various people and groups [that] have sought to influence” gambling regulations in the United Kingdom.
He notes that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, the misuse of statistics to support arguments is “wholly unacceptable”. The issue is so prevalent that on one occasion the commission was called to act on a case of statistic misuse by someone who had also been guilty of misusing statistics.
The Statistics Being Misused
Most of the issues involving statistics misuse seem to revolve around problem gambling.
Andrew Rhodes notes, for instance, that some entities claimed 99.7% of people gamble without harm, suggesting that only 0.3% are harmed and, therefore, that only a fraction are problem gamblers. This figure comes from an actual range of 0.2 to 0.6% that was taken from the UK population on the whole, and not just gamblers.
Rhodes also notes that some entities have tried to argue for or against specific forms of gambling, including the statement that sports betting is “less risky”.
Confirmation Not Causation
Essentially, what’s happening here has been happening in many other industries (and countless message boards and social media comment sections) for years. Rather than using data as it should be used, individuals are reading between the lines, arriving at their own conclusions, and then making concrete statements that don’t fully relate to the studies.
Instead of looking at the data from a neutral perspective and finding actual facts, they start with their beliefs, find studies that support them, and then adapt the wording of the conclusions to make them seem more favourable.
It’s a dangerous game and it’s being played by both sides—those supporting stricter regulations and those keen to avoid them. Of course, the lawmakers are not ignorant of these facts and understand when someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. But the same can’t be said for the general public and the sort of outrage media that follows these claims around.
It could influence the public’s perception of the gambling industry, and whether those influences are positive or negative, they aren’t always justified.