Gambling and children - a problem?


Photo: Adrian Sampson

The background...

For most adults, gambling is fun and doesn’t have any negative consequences.

In 2013, more than 75% of the UK adult population gambled in some form. Only 0.7% of gamblers had a problem with their gambling.

While this is a small proportion, it's still 600,000 people. And gambling is the fastest-growing addiction, both in the UK and globally.

Gambling is a hidden addiction - unlike drugs and drink, there’s no substance that causes negative physical effects. Gamblers can get addicted on the quiet, unnoticed by other people - after all, it takes only 12 seconds to log onto a tablet or smartphone and place an online bet. 

Children and gambling

Licensed bookmakers are under an obligation to stop anyone under 18 betting in their shops or even entering their premises. 

Broadly, under-18s are not allowed by law to gamble, though young people aged over 16 may use some gaming machines (with no more than £10 prizes) and play the lottery.

In practice, though, 15% if 11-15 year olds report having gambled in the last week.1

Problem gambling rates are higher among young gamblers than among adult gamblers.2

It is estimated that 2% of 11-15 year-olds are problem gamblers.3

Internet gambling - while technically restricted to over 18s - means that some children are able to gamble by lying about their age. 

Before 2005, 1 in 300 television advertisements was for gambling; now the ratio is around 1:20. Betting is increasingly integral to sport: at a typical football match a child will be exposed to 23 gambling advertisements - in stadium names, shirt sponsors, from bookmakers and in ads on the side of pitches.4

Problem gambling isn’t covered in the National Curriculum, unlike addiction to drink or drugs.

Adult gamblers can face problems including debt (sometimes driving them to criminal activity), loss of employment, family difficulties and poor mental health. Harm to young people may be similar - with, instead of job loss, truancy and poor performance at school.

Starting to gamble early is one of the risk factors for becoming a problem gambler in adulthood.5

Other risk factors include being male, being an only child, having more disposable income (pocket money etc.) and having parents who gamble.6

In spite of all this, repeated studies show that gambling is a long way down parents' lists of concerns.7





1 Ipsos 2013 Young People Omnibus 2013. A research study on gambling among 11-16 year-olds on behalf of the National Lottery Commisission, p4

2 'Problem gamblng' has been defined as 'gambling to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits.' British Gambling Prevalence Survey, 2007. International evidence suggests that problem gambling tends to be two to four times higher among young people than adults: Forrest, D., McHale, I., (2012) Gambling and Problem Gambling Among Young Adolescents in Great Britain.

3 IPSOS Mori (2009) British Survey of Children, The National lottery and Gambling 2008-9: Report of a Quantitative Survey

4 In 2012, young peole aged four to 15 received 1.8bn 'commerical impacts' on gambling. Ofcom, 2013

5 Australian Productivity Commission 2010, Gambling, Report no 50, Canberra, p 97

6 Forrest, D., McHale, I., (2010) Teenage kicks: young adolescents' participation in drinking, smoking and gambling, Journal of Gambling Studies, pp607-622; and Forest, D., McHale, I., Gambling and Problem Gambling Among Young Adolescents in Great Britain.

7 Ives 2012 "Reaching and engaging parents: lessons from drug prevention form a gambling intervention', International Gambling Conference: shaping the future of gambling, positive change through policy, practice and research, 2012.

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