Who will initiate an analysis to examine the prevalence of gambling and related harms in Malaysia? — Hafiz Hassan

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NOVEMBER 16 — Malay Mail’s report ”Kedah’s 4D outlet ban a step down slippery slope for Malaysia and investors, say economists” is the latest salvo at Kedah’s ban on numbers forecast operators.

The economists reportedly warned that the move should not be seen only as a state issue, but one that would have ramifications on federal coffers at a time revenue was shrinking, on investor confidence in the middle of economic downturn, and which would fuel illegal activities. 

Gambling is highly profitable for corporations and governments. The past decade has seen unprecedented growth in commercial gambling. 

The prevalence of problem gambling in different countries across the world was estimated to vary between 0-1 per cent and 5-8 per cent in 2019. 

Revenue from advertising alone has increased substantially, driven by gambling in the home and on mobile devices. In 2018 — 19, the total revenue for the UK gambling industry was £14·3 billion (RM80 billion), with £5·6 billion lost by online gamblers in 2018. (See Lindsay Blank et al, ‘Interventions to reduce the public health burden of gambling-related harms: a mapping review’ (2020) Lancet Public Health available here.)

But there is also growing recognition that gambling is a source of serious and unevenly distributed harm. This recognition has led to demands for public health strategies at the local, national, and international levels.

Gambling affects, or at least has the potential to negatively affect, physical health, psychological health, and the social functioning of the people who gamble and others around them. 

According to Lindsay Blank, various terms have been used to describe gambling-related harms. These terms all refer to a pattern of excessive gambling with impaired control over gambling behaviour, substantial negative consequences deriving from this impaired control, and persistence in excessive gambling despite these negative consequences.

Gambling disorder is the term in the WHO International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) since 1975. It was included in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980. 

Despite this early recognition and substantial bodies of research from ensuing decades indicating the extent of problem gambling, it is only in the past few years that the WHO has begun to focus attention on gambling and gambling-related harm. 

With few exceptions, member states have not, to date, formally addressed gambling within a public health framework. (M.W. Abbott, ‘Gambling and gambling-related harm: recent World Health Organisation initiatives’ (2020) Public Health available here.) 

In the UK, increasing concern about the harms associated with gambling has led to Public Health England (PHE) conducting “an evidence review of the health aspects of gambling-related harm to inform action on prevention and treatment” in May 2018. 

The UK has one of the largest gambling markets in the world. There was a need to fully understand the extent to which gambling is a public health issue, for whom it is a problem and the extent of the possible harms.

Gambling needs to be considered within a public health framework.— Picture by Miera Zulyana
Gambling needs to be considered within a public health framework.— Picture by Miera Zulyana

The review, among others, includes an economic analysis of the estimated annual economic burden of harmful gambling which is approximately £1.27 billion (expressed in 2019 to 2020 prices), with 95 per cent confidence that the precise estimate is between £841 million and £2.12 billion.

According to the review also, half of the estimated economic burden (£647.2 million) is a direct cost to the government, which is likely to be underestimated due to a lack of available evidence. 

This means that some identified harms have been only costed partially (financial, health, employment and education, crime), while others have not been costed at all (cultural harms and impact on relationships). (Gambling-related harms evidence review: summary (2021) available here.)

This government-led review in the UK demonstrates the growing awareness of the extent of gambling-related harm which calls for the adoption of formal legislative and public health policies that address the major determinants of gambling-related harms. 

There have even been calls for the establishment of an international coalition to champion and drive change, with suggestions that include a WHO initiative with reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to assist in promoting this approach.

Gambling needs to be considered within a public health framework.

In Malaysia, unfortunately, research into gambling is limited and there is no coherent strategy to tackle gambling-related harms. So write Balan Rathakrishnan and Sanju George in a recently published paper. (‘Gambling in Malaysia: an overview’ (2020) available here.)

The former is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Education, University of Sabah Malaysia (UMS).

The lack of research is of particular concern. It remains to be seen who will initiate an analysis to examine the prevalence of gambling and related harms in Malaysia.

Perhaps Parliament.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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