The Swedish Longitudinal Gambling Study, Swelogs, was launched in 2008 with the aim to acquire up-to-date knowledge on gambling in Sweden. It is one of the largest longitudinal gambling studies in the world conducted so far. In an effort to make this knowledge available to an English speaking audience The Public Health Agency of Sweden has combined two previously published reports and translated them into one English report. This report presents the results from the first and second waves in Swelogs’ epidemiological study carried out in 2008–2010.

In Swedish

Studien Swedish longitudinal gambling study, Swelogs, initierades 2008 med syfte att få fram aktuell kunskap om spelandet i Sverige och är en av de största longitudinella befolkningsstudierna om spel och hälsa i världen. För att göra denna unika studie mer tillgänglig för en engelsktalande publik har Folkhälsomyndigheten sammanställt två tidigare publicerade rapporter och översatt dem till engelska. Sammanställningen presenterar resultaten från första och andra mätningen i Swelogs epidemiologiska studie under åren 2008–2010.

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Since the end of the 1990s, prevalence studies have become increasingly common when investigating what proportion of a population gambles and what proportion has gambling problems at a certain point in time. In recent years, growing attention has been paid to the need for epidemiological studies with repeated measurements where changes and possible explanations for increases or decreases in gambling problems can be studied. Swelogs, the Swedish Longitudinal Gambling Study, is one of the world's first and the largest longitudinal epidemiological studies of gambling and health.

Swelogs is a research programme conducted and financed by the Public Health Agency of Sweden. The overarching goal of the project is to develop knowledge and methods that can prevent gambling problems. The study comprises an epidemiological study path and an in-depth study path with several measurement points in each and also a follow-up study where people from a previous study eleven years earlier are re-interviewed.

This report presents the results from the first two waves of the epidemiological study path. Results from wave one come from the cross-sectional study (prevalence study) and give a detailed account of gambling prevalence, the gambling situation in different subgroups, problem gambling, and the relationship between gambling problems and health. Findings from wave two, the incidence study, describes changes with regard to gambling problems in the population over a one-year period and how this co-varies with changes in health.

Main findings

Wave one

The proportion of problem gamblers in the population is around 2%, and 5% of the population run a risk of developing gambling problems. Gambling problems exist throughout the population, but there are significant differences in the proportions of gamblers among different segments of the population. For example, almost 1 in 10 men aged 18–24 but fewer than 1 in 100 women aged 45–64 are problem gamblers. In comparison with a previous study the proportion of the Swedish population who gamble has gone from 88% to 70% over the last decade.

Gambling among minors is found in all forms of gambling despite the fact that the gambling market has a minimum age requirement of 18 for all gambling except buying lottery tickets. The proportion of problem gamblers among girls aged 16–17 is 2%, and among boys aged 16–17 it is 5%.

Gambling problems among the population have been redistributed. The proportion of problem gamblers remains at the same level for the population as a whole over the last decade, with increases in certain groups and decreases in others. The proportion of problem gamblers has doubled among men aged 18–24 and among women aged 25-44. At the same time, gambling problems have decreased among boys aged 16–17, which was the group with the biggest gambling problems ten years ago. The proportion of problem gamblers has also decreased among men aged 45–64 and among women aged 18–24.

There are social differences between problem gamblers and people who do not have problems with their gambling. The proportion of problem gamblers is highest among those with the lowest level of education, the lowest income, and low socioeconomic status. There is a large proportion of problem gamblers among people who receive social allowance or unemployment benefits or have problems with their household economy. A comparison with the previous epidemiological study into gambling and gambling addiction from 1997/98 revealed that the connections between gambling problems and social differences had become stronger for men in the 2008 study.

There are connections between gambling problems, health and other factors. Poor mental health is six times more common among problem gamblers than among non-gamblers and gamblers without gambling problems. There are also connections between problem gambling and poor general health, risky alcohol consumption, daily smoking, subject to physical violence and financial problems.

Schools, workplaces and gambling venues/sites are important arenas for prevention. Almost 3% of the respondents had gambled in their workplace or in school instead of working or studying. The largest proportion was found among men 16-24 years old where more than 8% had gambled in their workplace or at school instead of working or studying. Among women in the age bracket of 45–64 years, the corresponding figure was 2%. Problem gamblers and people at low risk of developing gambling problems account for a disproportionate share of both the time and money spent on gambling. If we add up the problem gamblers and people at moderate risk of gambling problems, these account for more than half of the money spent on gambling in Sweden. The more serious the gambling problems, the larger the proportion of stakes.

Many relatives are affected. In 2008 around 260,000 people in Sweden lived with someone who was a problem gambler and 76,000 of these were children. There was a higher proportion of problem gamblers among families with children compared to couples without children.

Wave two

Many people go into and out of problem gambling over the course of a year. The proportion of problem gamblers was unchanged, but three-fourths of the previous problem gamblers were replaced with new problem gamblers. Some of the new problem gamblers were individuals who had previously had gambling problems while others were completely new problem gamblers. A large turnover among problem gamblers indicates that the proportion of persons who have had gambling problems during their lives is larger than the approximately 2% who have had gambling problems at a single point in time.

Almost half of the new problem gamblers were women. In total, approximately 100,000 people in the Swedish population between the ages of 16 and 84 years became problem gamblers in one year between wave one (2008/09) and wave two (2009/10), i.e. those who went from no problems or low risk to problem gambling. Almost half of these were women. The highest incidence was among adolescent men and older women.

85 % of continued problem gamblers were men. Just over 40,000 people were continued problem gamblers between the two waves of measurement, and nearly half of them had a serious gambling problem. Men accounted for approximately 85% of those who were continued problem gamblers.

Risky alcohol consumption and poor mental health are important risk factors. There was a connection between poor mental health and higher incidence of problem gambling specifically for men. We also noted a connection between developing risky drinking habits during the year and increasing gambling problems. Risky alcohol behaviours, divorce or separation, and increased arguments with a close relative reduced the likelihood of recovering from a gambling problem.

There are connections between problem gambling and life events. In terms of life events, we found the strongest connection between incidence and the death of a close relative. Likewise, there was a connection between incidence and a higher number of arguments with a close relative, but these arguments might also have been a consequence of more gambling problems. Severely worsened finances co-varied with an increased risk of gambling problems, but there was also a connection between markedly improved finances and an increased risk of gambling problems. In the same way, there were connections between problem gambling and both positive and negative changes in employment circumstances.

Casino games, gambling machines and many forms of internet gambling have a high risk potential. Around 5% of the Swedish population gambles on games with a high risk potential every month. Those who gambled on games with the highest risk potential every month in one year between wave one and wave two had the highest incidence of problem gambling. The degree of risk potential was determined through combinations of various different factors such as the speed of the game, the opportunity to play multiple games, light and sound effects, and the speed with which the winnings were paid out for each gambling type. We found that casino games, gambling machines, and many forms of gambling on the internet have a high risk potential.

Future analyses from Swelogs will increase the knowledge on causes and consequences. The continued work in Swelogs will lead to better knowledge with regard to risk and protective factors for gambling problems, the actual scope of the problem, group level and structural level factors that influence gambling problems, distinguishing characteristics of people in the risk zone, and mobility between different degrees of gambling problems. The aim is that this knowledge will lead to the development of more effective preventive measures.

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  • Author: Folkhälsomyndigheten
  • Release date: 2016-03-18
  • Number of pages: 162
  • Article: 16013