Friday, September 01, 2006

Les faits ne sont pas des jeux...

In today's column, Polly Toynbee writes:

But the US Senate has proved internet gambling can be banned, by refusing to license US companies and by banning banks and credit card companies from paying gaming sites anywhere in the world.

When she last wrote about this, back on 21 July, she was merely predicting that the "US senate is about to outlaw online gambling by preventing credit cards and banks paying out to gaming sites".  At the time, I noted that it was ironic that she was prepared to bet that this would occur in the context of a column decrying gambling.

Despite Polly's now stronger statement, no longer merely predicting but actually stating that it has happened, the US Senate have still not passed the bill.  According to GovTrack.US, the House passed the bill by 317-93 on 11 July 2006, but the Senate has yet to vote on it.


She also writes:

Does it have to be this way? No. Norway has just banned all slot machines.

No.  In actual fact, the government has said it will no longer grant any new licences to slot machines as they expire, so that the country will be slot machine free by 1 July 2007 at the latest (source).  This is not a ban, and the action is subject to legal challenge.


Polly also says:

The internet has seen gambling revenues mushroom from £7bn in 2001 to £50bn just four years later.

Now, there are two ways of measuring expenditure on gambling.  One is adding up the value of each bet placed, and the other is to subtract the winnings.  Let's imagine I go out for a night's betting with £100 in my pocket.  I bet all £100 on my first bet, win and get £150 back.  I bet all £150 again, and get £250 back.  On my third bet I bet all £250 and lose it all.  I then go home.

Under option (a), total expenditure is £500 (i.e. all bets placed).  Under option (b), the total is only £100 -- the difference between my stakes (£500) and my total winnings (£400).  Both are valid and have their merits.  Which does Polly mean?

Well, if we assume option (a), table 12.10 in the 2006 Annual Abstract of Statistics shows that in 2001/2, expenditure on the national lottery was £5bn, £1bn was spent on bingo and £10bn on off-course betting (including the dread internet).  There is some minor expenditure on football pools as well.  That will be £16bn in total -- admittedly in 2003/4 prices, but clearly not the figure Polly means.

If we assume option (b), we need look no further than Mr Caborn's answer to Mr Robertson on 24 July, reported here in Hansard.  Using this methodology, expenditure in 2001/2 was indeed £7bn, but in 2005/6 it was only £10bn.

Now, we can reproduce the £7bn to £50bn figure -- roughly, roughly -- but only if you take the 2001 figure using the lower number, i.e. option (b) and the higher figure for 2005, i.e. option (a).

But that would be a little misleading.


Novlangue said...

Curious that Polly Toytown is in the same boat with the more austere religious figures she hates so much!

Question - why doesn't she go & live in Sweden? Presumably the high suicide rate doesn't mean they're unhappy.

Anonymous said...

To your knowledge, are other hacks working in the UK given the same treatment as our Polly?

Cambridge, UK

FactcheckingPollyanna said...

GS -- I know of no other British columnist who gets away with writing factually inaccurate pieces time after time, and yet gets lauded for the thoroughness of her research, no.