25,000 children in Britain are problem gamblers, report finds
Gambling Commission says children encounter gambling through social media and computer games.
About 25,000 children aged between 11 and 16 are problem gamblers, with many learning to bet via computer games and social media, according to a report that has prompted warnings that Britain is “sleepwalking into a future public health storm”.
In its annual survey of youth gambling (pdf), industry regulator the Gambling Commission voiced fears that children were gambling in a “consequence-free environment”, including through so-called “skins” betting on video games.
Its concerns prompted Labour, which deregulated the gambling industry in 2005 but has changed its stance, to brand existing legislation “woefully out of date”.
About 370,000 (12%) children in England, Scotland and Wales have gambled in the past week, the commission found. More than quarter of a million children gambled with a licensed operator, such as a bookmaker or online casino.
They spent an average of £10 on gambling a week, more than a third of their £28 income from work or pocket money, with 8% claiming to have spent more than £40.
Almost 1% of children aged between 11 and 16, or about 25,000, are defined as problem gamblers, with a further 36,000 at risk of developing a problem.
Fruit machines remain the most common introduction to gambling for young people at 24%, followed by the National Lottery at 21%.
But the commission said children were increasingly being exposed to gambling in less traditional ways, such as through eSports (computer games competitions) and via social media.
The report found that 11% of children took part in skins betting, whereby online gamers can bet using in-game items, such as weapons or outfits, which can have real monetary value if traded.
Skins betting, an industry worth up to .1bn (£3.8bn) last year according to one US report, is a common feature of games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive.
And earlier this year, two men were convicted for running a website that allowed children to bet on the Fifa series of online football games.
More than one in 10 children reported having played casino-style games, which simulate roulette or fruit machines, on Facebook or smartphone apps.
The commission’s statistics indicate that children who play such games, many of which have a PEGI (Pan European Game Information) 12 age rating, are more likely to gamble in real life.
Of those who had ever played online gambling-style games, a quarter had spent their own money on gambling activity in the past week, significantly higher than the average of 12% among all 11-16 year olds.
Concern about children’s exposure to gambling-style games on Facebook surfaced a day after a former executive at the social media company admitted feeling “tremendous guilt” over his work on “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”.
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said the party would redraw gambling laws to tighten up regulation and address emerging risks, particularly online.
“The rise of skins gambling and other forms of gambling online, or in games which encourage children to trade in cosmetic online items for cash, only serves to demonstrate that our gambling laws are woefully out of date,” he said.
“The next Labour government will bring in a new gambling act that ensures our gambling laws are fit for the digital age and finally tackle Britain’s hidden gambling epidemic.”
The commission’s chief executive, Sarah Harrison, has previously labelled unlicensed websites that allow children to gamble on video games as “parasites”.
The report offers some insight into the extent to which children are exposed to gambling, with 80% saying they have seen advertisements on TV and 70% through social media.
“It is worrying that children continue to be bombarded with adverts promoting gambling through TV, online and via social media,” said Watson.
Marc Etches, the chief executive of the leading problem gambling charity, GambleAware, said Britain was “in great danger of sleepwalking into a future public health storm over gambling-related harm”.
He added: “Computer gaming with gambling presents real future challenges to the current regulatory framework. We’ve been saying for some time we have concern about the normalisation of gambling for young people and this report absolutely bears that out.”
Etches questioned why the government’s green paper on internet safety, published last month, did not allude to gambling as an online danger, calling on policymakers and regulators to “wake up”.
He voiced concerns about a lack of education available to young people about the risks involved. “That 40% of young people who gamble said they did so ‘to make money’ shows exactly why teenage misconceptions of chance and risk leave them so vulnerable,” Etches said.
The report found that four in 10 children said their parents had discussed the dangers of gambling with them, while fewer than one in five had been warned of the dangers by teachers.
“We need better education and prevention measures in place to give children the resilience to avoid gambling-related harm,” said Etches.
Gambling has come under increased scrutiny following a government review of the industry, including an ongoing consultation on the maximum allowable stake on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport review promised to look at children’s exposure to gambling via social media but concluded there was little evidence to suggest the rising number of betting ads was having an impact on problem gambling.
The minister for gambling, Tracey Crouch, said on Tuesday: “Protecting children is of the upmost importance, which is why there are strict controls in place to stop them accessing gambling or being encouraged to gamble through targeted advertising.
“Internet gambling has grown rapidly and the Gambling Commission needs to take the strongest possible action to make sure the rules are enforced.”
Labour has proposed policies including a compulsory levy on gambling firms to fund addiction treatment and a ban on betting companies advertising on football shirts.
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