Harmful gambling and social benefits such as social assistance are clearly linked

Publication date 28 Sep 2021

According to a recent research article, problem and at-risk gambling are linked to receiving social benefits. The social benefits examined included unemployment benefit, sickness allowance, disability pension and social assistance.

According to the article, one in three (31%) respondents to the Gambling Survey by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) who experienced problem or at-risk gambling had received at least one social benefit from Kela in 2016. In all respondents, the corresponding figure was 21 percent. 

Gambling problems more common among the unemployed 

Problem and at-risk gambling were more common among the unemployed than among employed people. Out of those receiving unemployment benefits, 16% were shown to experience problem or at-risk gambling. 

On the other hand, respondents who were not working due to an illness were also shown to be more prone to harmful gambling: Out of those receiving disability pension, 22% experienced problem or at-risk gambling. Of those receiving sickness allowance, the corresponding figure was 19%. 

Of the respondents who had received social assistance, one in four (25%) experienced problem or at-risk gambling. A person may be eligible for social assistance from Kela if the income and assets of a person or family are not sufficient to cover necessary daily expenses. 

The link between harmful gambling, unemployment and receiving benefits also remained strong when the respondent's gender, age and family background were taken into account, as well as their education level and the household's disposable income. 

‘It goes without saying that money lost in gambling is vital for many people who need social benefits. As their last money goes into gambling they end up in a situation in which problems start to stack up, and the person’s health, well-being and even life are at stake,’ says Tiina Latvala, Senior Researcher at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.

Figure 1. The proportion of people engaged in harmful gambling (%) was higher for those who had received social benefits.

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Gambling maintains socio-economic inequality

Previous studies have already showed that a gambling problem will further negatively affect the finances of a person who is already in a disadvantaged position. This in turn maintains and increases socio-economic inequalities in society. 

‘Gambling revenue is money that the gamblers have lost, and political decision-makers should take this into account. It is shocking to realise that this money comes partly from disadvantaged people, and harmful gambling is also linked to the social benefits from Kela,’ says Anne Salonen, Research Manager at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.

The study examined the link between social benefits and gambling for the first time. The population survey carried out by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare combined register data on social benefits from the registers controlled by Statistics Finland. 

The findings complement the previous studies by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, according to which a significant proportion of the money spent on gambling comes from players with a gambling problem. 

Harmful gambling, including at-risk and problem gambling, were assessed using the international Problem and Pathological Gambling Measure (PPGM). At-risk gambling refers to gambling that causes individual harm to the gambler.  It may have a negative effect on finances, relationships, health and work or studies, among other things. At-risk gambling often precedes a more serious gambling problem. 

The results are published in an article in the European Journal of Public Health: ”Social disadvantege and gambling severity: a population-based study with register linkage”. The study utilised the Gambling Survey by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare which had 7,186 respondents living in Uusimaa, Pirkanmaa and Kymenlaakso. The survey data was collected by Statistics Finland in 2017. 

Reference: Latvala, Lintonen, Browne, Rockloff & Salonen (2021) Social disadvantage and gambling severity: a population-based study with register-linkage. European Journal of Public Health.

Further information

Tiina Latvala
Senior Researcher
tel. +358 29 524 8398 
[email protected]

Anne Salonen
Research Manager
tel. +358 29 524 8125
[email protected]

Earlier on the subject

Anne Salonen et al, Rahapelaaminen, peliongelmat ja rahapelaamiseen liittyvät asenteet ja mielipiteet vuosina 2007–2019. Suomalaisten rahapelaaminen 2019. Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Report 18/2020. (Abstract in english)

THL press release: Huomattava osa rahapeleihin käytetystä rahasta tulee pelaajilta, joilla on peliongelma. 15 December 2020. (In Finnish)

Kela benefits

Salonen AH, Kontto J, Alho H, Castrén S. 2017. Suomalaisten rahapelikulutus – keneltä rahapeliyhtiöiden tuotot tulevat? Analyysit. Yhteiskuntapolitiikka 82; 5, 549-559. (In Finnish)

Roukka T & Salonen AH. The winners and the losers: Tax incidence of gambling in Finland. Journal of Gambling Studies (2019).

Selin J, Raisamo S, Heiskanen, M & Toikka, A. (2018). Onko hajasijoitettujen rahapeliautomaattien suhteellinen määrä suurempi sosioekonomisesti haavoittuvilla asuinalueilla? Yhteiskuntapolitiikka 83; 3, 294-302. (In Finnish)

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