The minimum legal age for gambling generally in the UK is 18 years old. This includes adult gaming centres, bingo halls, online gambling, racetracks casinos and betting shops. The exceptions are non-commercial gambling, lotteries and football pools whose minimum legal age for participation is 16. However, this does not deter underage children from gambling. Some children start gambling very young, starting from the common card games and lottery tickets and gradually progressing to the more serious types in later adolescence. Because of the internet and smartphones, your child or ward may be gambling as young as 10 years without your knowledge.
Research on underage gambling in the UK
Ipsos MORI, on behalf of the Gambling Commission, conducted a research among 11-15-year-old children from England and Wales to identify the prevalence of underage gambling in various forms of gambling. The study revealed over 450,000 11-15-year-old children from England and Wales gamble each week. The study was also of the opinion that about 9,000 of these 450,000 underage gamblers will likely develop an addiction to gambling.
According to the research, the overall gambling rate of children aged 11-15 who had gambled in the past week was 17% but when asked to think back over the past year, the figure for gambling participation increased to 30% of children. The incidence of gambling among 11-15 year olds and patterns of behaviour in relation to gambling activities have remained steady year-on-year.
Among children who gamble, the most popular forms of gambling activity typically take the form of fruit machine play in a family arcade (six per cent), placing a private bet with friends (six per cent), and playing cards for money with friends (five per cent).
Notwithstanding the UKGC’s rigid code of conducts and underage gambling prevention methods for gambling licence householders, it was found that eight per cent of the children who participated in gambling did so in public betting shops, bingo halls and commercial arcades without the interference of the gambling licence holders. Another worrisome fact is that 84 per cent of those who played the National Lottery, bought the scratch cards in the company of their parent or guardian who hands the money over at the point of purchase, from a corner shop or newsagent at the weekend.
The data garnered from the research suggests that there are variations by gender, with boys almost twice as likely to gamble as girls and to be classified as problem, social or ‘at risk’ gamblers.
Warning signs that your child may have a gambling problem
Most underage gamblers keep it a secret from their parents or guardians. It is difficult to know they are gambling until it becomes a full-scale addiction. As a parent, you have to be on the lookout for some of these signs.
- Does your child have unexplained money or suddenly become extravagant?
- Have you noticed some items or money missing from your home?
- Does your child spend an awful amount of time at video arcades, on internet gaming sites, video games, watching sports, playing cards?
- Has your child asked to borrow relatively large sums of money from friends and family without explaining why?
- Has he withdrawn from friends and family or leisure activities?
- Has your child developed a newfound interest in sports odd?
- Do you suspect your child may be stealing?
- Has your child suddenly become secretive?
- Are there reports of truancy or unprecedented poor performance/concentration in school?
- What to do if your child is gambling
- Be sure your child did not pick up the habit from you. Do not buy lottery scratch cards for them. Set a good example and do not encourage them in any way.
- Talk to your child about the dangers of gambling both online and offline. The executive director of Gambling Commission, Tim Miller said, “We’re often reminded to discuss the risks of drinking, drugs and smoking with our children. However, our research shows that children are twice as likely to gamble than do any of those things.”
- Limit your child’s internet use and their access to online gaming websites. Consider blocking gambling sites on the digital devices at home.
- Find out as much as you can about their favourite gaming sites and the betting shops they frequent, then explain how gambling works to your child, including the fact that their chances of winning are extremely low in the long run.
- Find out if your child resorted to gambling as a way to cope with problems. Some teenagers pick up gambling as a way of coping with stress or boredom or to look cool before their peers. Redirect their interest towards more positive hobbies and extracurricular activities.
- If you think your child has a gambling problem, consider contacting an organisation which specialises in young people and gambling, or addiction.
Risks of children being exposed to gambling online
In the research done by the Gambling Commission, 11 per cent of children aged 11-15 admitted to gambling online. 64 per cent of them used an app on their smartphone, 36 per cent used Facebook and other social networking sites, 19 per cent used another website, while nine per cent used free demo games on gambling websites.
In an open letter to the Editor of the Sunday Times following their story on the risks of children being exposed to gambling online, Tim Miller, the Executive Director of Gambling Commission promised parents that the Gambling Commission is committed to using their powers and expertise to create a safer internet for kids and make sure illegal gambling is not made accessible to kids via the internet.
In concordance with their fight against exposing kids to online gambling, the Gambling Commission also set up strict policies for gambling businesses aimed at preventing underage gambling. They include:
- Checking ages of customers who appear or are suspected of being underage.
Not deliberately providing facilities for gambling in such a way as to appeal particularly to children and young people.
- Refusing service to adults accompanied by a baby, child or young person.
Even though these regulations and policies are in place to protect underage children from online and offline gambling activities, ultimately, parents have the greatest responsibility to protect their children from getting hooked to gambling at such an early age.