Shocking rise of young people problem gambling in the UK

Children Gambling

Massive increase in young people problem gambling in the UK. Does something need to be done?

Figures from the UK Gambling Commission show that around 450,000 11-to 16-year olds are gambling an estimated £16 a week. This is an increase of over 50,000 from the previous year. Even more concerning is that the same report states that around 55,000 11-to 16-year olds are classified as problem gamblers. This shocking statistic has quadrupled in just two years.

The reason

Gambling in the UK is legal for adults over the age of 18. The National Lottery and scratch cards have a lower age limit of 16. Sadly, despite these age restrictions, young people are still surrounded by gambling. They are bombarded with gambling adverts on television, online and social media and even the high street. Figures from the Gambling Commission report assert this as 66% of participants questioned had seen gambling adverts on TV, 49% had seen or heard TV or radio programmes sponsored by a gambling company and 46% had seen gambling sponsorships at sports venues or on players’ kits.

Football shirts sponsored by gambling company
Football shirts sponsored by gambling company. Credit- Puzzle London

The gambling industry recently confirmed plans to voluntary ban betting adverts during sporting events after pressure had built to shield children from excessive exposure to gambling. The ban is scheduled to start this summer. It will ban all adverts beginning five minutes before sporting events up until all adverts ending five minutes after.

Findings from a study carried out by the Victoria Derbyshire show, emphasise how important this ban will be. The study found that 95% of television advertising breaks during live UK football matches featured at least one gambling advert. The research was gathered by analysing 25 games between British teams in the 2017 season. Over the course of these matches there were a total of 272 gambling advertisements. The upcoming ban should drastically lower this number.

Culture secretary Jeremy Wright welcomed the voluntary ban. He said, “gambling firms are stepping up and responding to public concerns”. However whilst the gambling industry has stepped up their bid to prevent young people from becoming problem gamblers, the video game industry also has to do their bit.

Do video games lead to gambling?

Video games are one of the most popular sources of entertainment for young people. Gone are the days of kids going out in the fresh air and running round making their own fun. Nowadays video game consoles, smart tablets and phones lead the way in providing kids with entertainment.

Research by McAfee found that children in the UK play video games for a colossal 15 hours a week. On average they will play video games for 2.13 hours a day. Gary Davis from consumer security at McAfee commented “Over the years gaming has grown dramatically in popularity and it’s now an everyday habit for young people, particularly children.”

Fortnite item shop
Fortnite item shop where players purchase items with virtual currency

Within many popular video games there are in-game purchases available. They offer items that boost the player’s experience when playing the game. Two of the most popular console games of 2019, FIFA 19 and Fortnite both offer a huge range of in-game purchases and loot boxes.  FIFA offers the player the option to buy packs which contain in-game player cards. These can be purchased with in-game currency or real money. By opening these packs, the player has a random chance of getting good or bad items. The system is essentially gambling. The player has no control over what they will receive from the packs. They have no way of determining whether what’s inside the pack warrants spending the money to open it. It is essentially a lucky dip.

The in-game purchase system is enticing and draws players in cleverly. It uses all the same tactics and techniques that betting companies use to entice gamblers. Players can become hooked on spending their money on in-game purchases to get their rewards. This is especially worrying because unlike gambling, most of these games have no age limit and many of their players are children under the age of 18.

Stephen’s story

Stephen is one parent who learned how damaging the in-game purchase feature could be. “My son is 13 and he plays his PlayStation all the time. I limit it to an hour or two on school nights but at the weekends he will spend hours on end playing online and chatting to his friends. I don’t really like it but that’s what all the children do now. He gets new games at Christmas or on his birthday and recently I started to just download them straight on to his console, instead of going to the shop and buying it. It was so much handier for me.” This proved to be a costly mistake for Stephen as it stored his card details on the console which his son then went on to use, spending hundreds of pounds on in-game purchases. “I started to get little amounts of money showing up on my bank statements. It would be 79p there and £2.99 here, I just ignored them and assumed that it was something I had been doing. However, the numbers began to get bigger and before I knew it they totalled around £250. I had to have a talk with Troy. He came clean telling me that he had been buying packs on FIFA. I banned him from playing the PlayStation for a month as punishment. He was very sorry and really upset, I don’t think he fully understood how much money he had spent buying these packs.” He continued “£250 is a lot of money for anyone. I tried to get it back telling them it was my son buying without my permission, but I couldn’t recover any of the money. I was so angry at Troy at first but when I read online about it I realised that it’s very common these days and the pack system in FIFA is set up to exploit young people.”

FIFA packs
FIFA packs which players can buy with in-game currency to improve their team.

At the end of January 2019, Belgium changed their gambling laws to prevent in game purchases on packs or loot boxes which reward the player with random items. Gambling is mostly illegal in Belgium with some exceptions. A 2017 report by the Belgium Gambling Commission found that loot boxes and packs are games of chance and therefore are deemed as gambling.

Sadly the UK has still not taken action to prevent these exploitive tactics used by the video game industry. The Gambling Commission stated in a 2017 report that loot boxes and packs do not constitute gambling because the items are received in game and cannot be used outside of the game.

The line is becoming blurry between gaming and gambling and it is one of the main factors alongside excessive advertising which has resulted in the growth of young problem gamblers in the UK.

Should in-game purchases for video games be banned in the UK?

If you or anybody you know have been affected by gambling and need help. Please get in touch with one of the organisations below

National Gambling Helpline- 0808 8020 133

*This is an article from May 2019 so some statistics may not be up to date

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