Research > National Institute for Health Research

Project overview

Gambling problems affect 430,000 people in Britain, with a further 2 million likely to be at risk. Vulnerable people living on low incomes, in deprived neighbourhoods, and with other health problems are most affected. The most serious problems can result in suicide: 1 in 3 people who go for treatment for gambling have attempted suicide. Men are five times more likely to have gambling problems than women, and younger men involved in sports are particularly at-risk.

Sports betting is a big growth area for the gambling industry. It has dramatically increased since the 2005 Gambling Act and men who watch football have become a key target for gambling industry advertising.

This trades on men’s passion for football to draw them into gambling and to encourage them to believe their knowledge of the sport will give them an advantage. We believe it is important to counterbalance these trends with interventions that reach football fans who experience or are at risk of problem gambling.

To date, there are no independent, national initiatives that exist to prevent gambling harm either among the general population, or among this particular target group.

The goal of this research is to carry out a pilot study of a new programme – Football Fans and Betting (FFAB). It aims to support men at risk of gambling problems to spend less time and money on betting, and so improve their wellbeing, self-esteem and close relationships.

FFAB draws on learning from the highly successful Football Fans in Training (FFIT) programme, which our team’s research has shown to be very effective for men. FFIT used the appeal of football clubs to provide a supportive space for men to learn new techniques for weight management and healthy living.

Through group sessions led by football coaches they developed a toolkit of behaviour change skills such as use of information, self- monitoring and goal-setting, in a supportive, enjoyable, interactive group that enabled mutual learning.

We believe that many of these features could also work for reducing involvement with gambling, and have based FFAB on learning from FFIT. We are being guided by people who have direct experience of gambling, including organisations that provide treatment for people with gambling problems, and former problem gamblers.

The FFAB programme will be delivered in two phases. In the first, we will talk to gamblers, sports fans and team coaches and use this information to refine materials for the intervention. In the second, the programme will be delivered in group sessions run by specially trained coaches in football clubs in the north of England.

The sessions will support men to set personalised targets for reductions in the time and money they spend gambling, and will also cover important issues such as: explaining how gambling works; looking at impacts on health and relationships, industry tactics to encourage gambling; and what people can do to reduce their betting. We will measure changes in gambling behaviour by looking at differences in how much time and money people spend on sports betting between the start and end of the programme.

We will have a comparison group who have not gone through the programme to help us understand if any changes are the result of the group sessions or not.


Reith G, Bunn C, Wardle H, Rooksby J, Deidda M, Philpott M, Graham F, Platt N, Greenlaw N, Gray C, Hunt K, Rogers R, Wyke S. Football Fans and Betting (FFAB): a feasibility study and randomised pilot trial of a group-based intervention to reduce gambling involvement among male football fans. National Institute for Health Research: £629,765.79. 01/01/20 – 31/12/21.