Despite a decline in the percentage of children gambling, the percentage of 11-16 years olds at risk of developing a gambling problem has doubled in two years.
The UK Gambling Commission´s Young People and Gambling Survey 2019 (PDF) contains both good and bad news in relation to the percentage of 11-16 year olds that gamble. Whereas fewer children than last year gamble, the percentage considered to be problem gamblers has remained the same, and the percentage at risk of developing a gambling problem has more than doubled in the past two years.
Of the survey participants that do gamble, most count playing cards with families or friends as gambling, while the most common form of regulated gambling is buying a lottery ticket or scratch card (which is legal for sixteen year olds in the UK). Overall, the percentage of survey participants that had gambled legally in the past week was considerably lower than the percentage who had drunk alcohol illegally.
Headline Trend Good, Underlying Trends Not So Good
The headline statistic of the report is that 11% of 11-16-year olds that took part in the survey said they had spent their own money on gambling in the past seven days, compared with 14% in 2018. Many industry observers will look at this headline statistic and feel there is nothing to worry about. However, the underlying trends are not so positive and raise plenty of concerns in relation to underage gambling.
Last year´s report caused a media meltdown in the UK when it was estimated 1.7% of children in the UK were problem gamblers and that this represented a four-fold increase from a similar survey in 2016. Although the estimate was subsequently found to be flawed due to the UKGC not using an apples-for-apples comparison, this year´s survey – which is closer in format to last year´s – shows no change.
Of more concern is the increasing percentage of 11-16 year olds considered “at risk” of developing a gambling problem. While the 60% increase recorded in last year´s survey could be attributed to the way in which the survey was conducted (online rather than on paper), there is no such reason to explain a further increase of almost 25% in the number of children considered at risk this year.
Why More Children are At Risk of Developing a Gambling Problem
The trend appears to be attributable to the number of 11-16 year olds paying money to open in-game “loot boxes” and then moving onto other forms of gambling. In the survey, 34% of respondents said they had “played” for in-game items before progressing to other forms of gambling, while only 11% of respondents had gambled elsewhere first (the remainder didn´t know or couldn´t remember).
Many video games with loot box-style gambling are unlicensed by the UK Gambling Commission and heavily promoted on social media. Most 11-16 year olds (12% of whom follow gambling companies on social media) are unaware of the difference between regulated gambling and unregulated gambling and are therefore exposed to gambling “opportunities” that would not be tolerated by the UKGC.
Unfortunately, it´s not just unlicensed operators who are to blame for this trend. The money used by at risk and problem gamblers to play these games had most often been given to them by their parents, parents bought lottery tickets and scratch cards for their underage children in 73% of cases, and 75% of children who gambled online did so with their parent´s permission and using their parent´s accounts.
It´s Not Operators Who Need More Regulating, it´s Parents
Inasmuch as it is important the UK Gambling Commission keeps on top of licensed operators to promote responsible gambling and prevent underage gambling, it is also important parents are made aware of the harms that can develop from seemingly innocent pastimes. This is particularly difficult when parents aim to please their children, but as the UKGC´s Executive Tim Miller said:
Protecting children and young people from gambling harms is a collective responsibility and requires us, other regulators, the government, gambling operators, charities, teachers and parents to work together to make progress.
Parents who are concerned about their children´s online activities should visit parentzone.org.uk – a website set up to help parents keep up-to-date with what safe and what´s not in the digital world. The service offers plenty of resources, including a free “gaming or gambling” pack that includes tips on identifying problem gambling and advice on how children can stay safer online.