German Sports Betting Association rails against BMG study

Responsible Gambling

According to a BMG study, the number of gambling addicts in Germany has tripled. Now it has come to light that this study is also characterized by imprecise allocation – and here, too, the results and methods are controversial. Once again, the researchers are not releasing the data.

The figures coming out of the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) are not exactly reassuring. According to these figures, there has been a sharp rise in the number of gambling addicts in Germany. According to a study, gambling addiction has reached epidemic proportions in just a few years. The House of Karl Lauterbach (SPD) now estimates that there are currently 1.3 million addicts who use their money in casinos, on slot machines, in sports betting or in online gambling. If the figures are correct, there would have been a more than threefold increase in Germany. According to official figures, there were 400,000 gambling addicts in 2019.

The figures for the preliminary stage of addiction, i.e. people with “problematic gaming behavior”, are also worrying. In 2019, the ministry assumed that around 0.7% of the population was still addicted, but the latest survey by the BMG puts the figure at 8% in the 18 to 70 age group. The German government’s addiction commissioner Burkhard Blienert (SPD) is correspondingly alarmed: illegal gambling has increased significantly since the pandemic, Blienert informed Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) in December. There is a risk of a “loss of control” if a planned relaxation of the penal code from Buschmann becomes reality. Instead, Blienert wants to ban sports betting until 11 p.m. and tougher penalties for illegal gambling.

But can everything the ministry is saying be true? Blienert’s initiative could soon turn out to be premature. Critics from many sides are questioning the credibility of the BMG study and its drastically out-of-line results.

Back in November, the BMG presented a much-noticed “Gambling Atlas” to the public, a rough overview of the results of the addiction survey. The paper is based on the latest “Gambling Survey”, which is published every two years. Until 2019, the regular scientific survey of gambling addiction in Germany was the responsibility of the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA), which is now about to be dissolved at the request of Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD). As a result, the commission was passed on to the Hamburg Institute for Interdisciplinary Addiction and Drug Research (ISD) and the University of Bremen, which are now responsible for the official “Gambling Survey”.

In view of the glaring results, opposition politicians and experts are now raising serious doubts. The scientific quality of the survey and, above all, the BMG itself are under suspicion – even the awarding of the study contract raises questions. The Hamburg ITS and the University of Bremen did not submit their applications for funding for the “Gambling Atlas” until August 2023. However, the “Gambling Atlas” was then completed surprisingly quickly. The BMG already had the results ready in November, just three months after the official application. Lauterbach’s SPD party colleague Blienert can provide a plausible explanation for the record-breaking speed of the research.

Blienert had already stated on a podium at the end of 2022, i.e. nine months before the funding application, at the annual conference of the Gambling Addiction Association that the BMG had “commissioned the “Gambling Atlas” from the ITS at his request”. When asked by WELT why the ministry had not put the “Gambling Atlas” out to tender, a spokesperson replied that his department had awarded the 134,240 euros in funding as a “grant”. The decisive factor was the “unique selling point” of the institutes. Legally, the ministry is not actually obliged to invite tenders for funding amounts below the threshold value of 140,000 euros. However, the spokesperson was unable to answer the question of what made the Hamburg and Bremen researchers particularly suitable.

According to the Joint Gambling Authority of the federal states (GGL), more than ten German institutes are involved in gambling research – including the Charité in Berlin. On top of this, the head of the study and head of the Bremen institute Tobias Hayer has already been at the center of a state procurement scandal. In 2021, the newly created GGL wanted to review the impact of the new State Treaty on Gambling by means of an evaluation. Head of the investigation: Hayer. Even then, he did not have to do any special convincing for the 750,000 euro contract: he was the only bidder in the Europe-wide tender.

“Business Insider” reported on the case in September. When asked by the business magazine, the authority described the incident as “very regrettable”. It did not provide an explanation.

CDU addiction expert Borchardt is not satisfied with the answer from Lauterbach’s ministry. “The BMG is constantly entangling itself in contradictions,” she criticized to WELT. “There is reason to suspect that agreements were made in advance between the study authors and the BMG. For me, this casts considerable doubt on the neutrality of the study.” She expects the BMG to fully investigate this matter.

No explanation can be found for the sudden increase in the susceptibility of Germans to gambling addiction while the gambling industry’s turnover remains the same. And so experts are puzzling over whether the findings are simply due to methodological weaknesses in the study. Statistician Katharina Schüller, for example, attests to the “Gambling Survey’s” “questionable precision and lack of transparency”. Schüller is head of the consulting firm Stat-up and a board member of the German Statistical Society.

In her 140-page report, she comes to the conclusion that the “survey is not a reliable basis for decision-making with regard to the evaluation and adaptation of legal regulations”. In Schüller’s opinion, the authors did not work properly: “For representative samples, you have to carefully check who you reach and who you don’t reach. This is basic knowledge of survey statistics, and the authors did not guarantee this,” the statistician explains to WELT: “If you then take into account that only ten percent of those contacted responded to the online survey, but almost 30 percent of those called, the argument doesn’t exactly become any more valid.”

The authors justify themselves to WELT, as does the BMG: the figures are “hardly comparable”. Unlike in 2019, the researchers also used the internet for the survey this time. But how could this justify such a blatant jump in figures? There is as little information on this as there is on the whereabouts of raw data or survey forms.

CDU health politician Borchardt is also certain that no political measures can be derived from the new gambling addiction figures. The gambling atlas is questionable: “It is obvious to me that the work here was not done properly. In the interests of scientific transparency, the data must be published,” said Borchardt. For her, the “explosive increase in gambling addicts” cannot be explained by possible special effects due to the coronavirus pandemic. This raises the question of whether Minister Lauterbach, as well as the Federal Government’s Drugs and Addiction Commissioner, are not even using the sharp increase to justify “actionism and ideological bans”.