Over the past 18 months I have been carrying out research into problematic sports betting and sports betting advertising which has already produced a number of papers (see Further Reading, below) and with many more to come.

One of the issues we have faced in contextualizing our work is that there is no such concept as sports-related problem gambling in prevalence surveys because problem gambling is assessed on the totality of gambling experiences rather than a single activity. For instance, in the three British Gambling Prevalence Surveys conducted since 1999, sports-related gambling is subsumed within a number of different gambling forms: "football pools and fixed odds coupons," "private betting," and "other events with a bookmaker." The 2010 BGPS, which I co-authored, included "sports betting" as a category, along with "football pools" (no coupons), "private betting," "spread betting" (which can include both sports or financial trading). In addition, the 2010 BGPS added a new category under online gambling activities to include "any online betting." More recently, the Health Survey for England also introduced a new category: "gambling on sports events (not online)."

Despite these limitations, some evidence can be inferred from gambling activity by gambling type. In 2014, Dr. Heather Wardle and her colleagues combined the gambling data from the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey. They reported that among adult males aged 16 years and over during a 12-month period, 5 percent participated in offline football pools, 8 percent engaged in online betting (although no indication was made about whether this only involved sport), and 8 percent engaged in sports events (not online). The categories were not mutually exclusive so an overlapping of respondents across categories was very likely. A similar rate was found in South Australia in a 2013 report the Social Research Centre with those betting on sports over the past year accounting for 6.1 percent of the adult population, an increase from the 4.2 percent reported in 2005.

In Spain, the Spanish Gambling Commission (Direccion General de Ordenacion del Juego) reported that 1.5 percent of the adult (male and female) population had gambled online on sports in 2015. This is a significantly lower proportion compared with the British data, although the methodological variations cannot be underestimated. Spanish data also shows that, among those who have gambled online on a single gambling type only, betting on sports is the more prevalent form with up to 66 percent of those adults.

In France, the data on the topic only focuses on those who gamble rather than examining the general population of gamblers and non-gamblers. Among online gamblers, Dr. Jean-Michel Costes and colleagues reported in a 2011 issue of the journal Tendances that 35.1 percent had bet on sports during the last 12 months. In another French study by Costes and colleagues published in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies, sports betting represented 16.4 percent of the gambling cohort, although again, the representativeness of sports betting behavior among the general gambling and non-gambling population could not be determined.

Due to the aforementioned shortcomings in the definition of sports-related gambling, there is only fragmented empirical evidence concerning the impact of sports-related problem gambling behavior. For instance, in 2014 Dr. Nerilee Hing noted that clinical reports indicate that treatment seeking for sports-related problem gambling had grown in Australia. In British Columbia, a 2014 survey for the Ministry of Finance reported that 23.6 percent of at-risk or problem gamblers had gambled on sports either offline or online (Malatests & Associates Ltd, 2014). A smaller proportion (16.2 percent) was found in the Spanish population screened in the national gambling DGOJ survey, except this subgroup was entirely composed of online bettors.

In a 2011 study published in International Gambling Studies with patients from a pathological gambling unit within a community hospital in Barcelona, Dr. Susana Jiménez-Murcia and her colleagues found that among those who had developed the disorder gambling online only (as opposed to those who gamble both online/offline or offline only), just over half (50.8 percent) were sport bettors. Those who gambled online only (on any activity) and those that only gambled online on sports events represented a small minority of the total number of problem gamblers. Overall, there is relatively little research on this subgroup of gamblers. Therefore, myself and others will be monitoring the evolution of this trend as the online gambling population grows.

Note: This article was co-written with input from Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez.


Costes, J-M, Kairouz, S., Eroukmanoff, V., et al. (2016) Gambling patterns and problems of gamblers on licensed and unlicensed sites in France. Journal of Gambling Studies, 32(1), 79–91.

Costes, J., Pousset, M., Eroukmanoff, V., et al. (2010). Gambling prevalence and practices in France in 2010. Tendances, 77, 1–8.

DGOJ (2016a). Análisis del perfil del jugador online. Madrid: Ministerio de Hacienda y Administraciones Públicas.

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