Black Market fears: unfounded or based in evidence?

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

On 20th December 2020, the Sun published an article with the headline: "TEEN BET PERIL Thousands of teens lured into blowing £1.4billion on black market online gambling, shocking report reveals".

The article later states: "Many under-18s were among the 200,000 to have staked £1.4billion on unregulated sites in 12 months."

It also contains commentary from industry lobbyist Michael Dugher. However, no courtesy for balance or other voices was considered. In particular, we note that Tony Franklin - a safer gambling campaigner, has previously provided his expert analysis to the same PwC report in November 2019.

As well as a lack of balance in this article, we find several other issues with industry claims that are worthy of commentary.

£1.4 billion staked is not the same as £1.4 billion blown

Although heavily implied by the article headline, £1.4bn is not the value of the losses by teens; instead, it represents an estimate of the total amount staked with black market operators. To make clear, the report found that the black market in the UK for gambling was estimated to be worth about 1.2% of total gambling turnover. By using this estimate, we can estimate that the total turnover of the gambling industry in the UK equals £116.7bn. Of course, a headline of "Thousands of teens lured into blowing £116.7bn on gambling, shocking report reveals" would still be misleading and not suitable for publishing in a credible media outlet.

Thousands of teens

Even though we welcome the industry's concern for gambling-harm in children, the article in the Sun is the first to mention a link of thousands of teens to black market gambling. To date, we have found no evidence whatsoever on this link.

According to consistent data from the Young People Gambling Reports, there are an estimated 1.2m 11-16-year olds who have gambled in the past 12 months. The PwC report found that 0.2m people had used an illegal gambling site. Therefore, we should expect the majority of gambling in young people to be attributable to licensed gambling operators.

Conflict of interests - the "research" was funded by the industry

The PwC report was funded by William Hill and GVC, which creates a clear conflict of interest and so there is a real risk that the validity of results in the report may have been compromised. However, this conflict of interest was not mentioned in the Sun article.

Other issues with these claims

  • The report referenced is not publicly available

  • The PwC report is expected to be based from a survey of 3000 gamblers with no indication of the methodology, or if the sample is expected to be nationally representative, therefore the external validity of claims is virtually non-existent

  • At this time, there is no evidence to differentiate the harm attributable to black-market gambling from the gambling-harm attributable to licensed gambling operators


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