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New research reveals how people play gambling machines

01 December 2014 | Tags: gambling

A report by NatCen Social Research and Featurespace, commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Trust, has revealed new information about how people play high stakes (category B2) gambling machines in bookmakers.

Using information from all gambling machines in the five main bookmakers (Betfred, Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill) NatCen found that during the 10 month period when the data was collected close to 7 billion bets were made on the machines in around 178 million gambling sessions. 73% of these bets were placed on B2 games which allow a stake up to £100 rather than B3 games where the stake is limited to £2.

  • Winners and losers:  On average, gamblers lost £7 per session. The biggest loss was over £13k in a session lasting more than seven hours, while the biggest win was also over £13k. However, wins and losses of this size were extremely rare.
  • Placing a stake: The average stake on a B2 game was £14, with only around 3% of sessions including the maximum possible £100 stake. This still amounts to over 5 million sessions in which a £100 stake was placed.  
  • Time of day: People gambling after 10pm at night staked twice as much money per bet than those gambling during the day. The proportion placing a £100 bet doubled to 6% after 10pm and the numbers playing the most popular game, roulette, also went up.
  • Session length: Gambling sessions lasted around 11 minutes on average.

Researchers also looked for other variations in the way people play and found that geography can make a significant difference in gambling behaviour.

They found that people in London played higher stakes and for longer sessions than other parts of the country.  The research also showed that in England 40% of all bets were placed in venues in the most deprived areas, however this appeared to simply reflect the distribution of bookmakers; 38% of bookmakers included in this study were in the most deprived areas of England.  

Loyalty card survey

NatCen also undertook a survey of more than 4,000 individuals who had signed up to loyalty card schemes with bookmakers.

The findings from the survey were compared with loyalty card data showing participants use of gambling machines. This identified different patterns in the way problem gamblers use machines compared with non-problem gamblers.

For example, problem gamblers bet at higher stakes, gambled more often and put more money into the machines. However, it was also clear that the behaviours of problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers overlap, meaning that when it comes to machine play, they are not mutually exclusive groups. Further analysis of whether problem gambling could be identified from gaming machine data was undertaken in the Predicting Problem Gambling research led by FeatureSpace.

Heather Wardle, Research Director, NatCen Social Research said “As a result of this research we know far more about the way people are using gambling machines in bookmakers.  

We have confirmed that there are some cases where people have lost a great deal of money in one session – at the most extreme end, more than £13,000 in seven hours. But this is rare and we now know that most people are only losing a few pounds at a time.

We can also feel confident that it will be possible to use the data collected in gambling machines to identify problem gamblers, though we may have to accept that we’ll intervene with some non-problem gamblers to do so. However, this is an important step in making it possible to intervene when a gambler is at risk of harm.”


For more information, contact: Leigh Marshall, 0207 549 8506/07828 031 850


“Patterns of Play: Analysis of data from machines in bookmakers” is one of several pieces of research being published today by the Responsible Gambling Trust. As part of this programme, NatCen led the Patterns of Play and Loyalty Card Survey reports and contributed to “Predicting Problem Gambling” led by FeatureSpace.

The full programme of research has been published by the Responsible Gambling Trust and is available here:

NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.