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The alarming rise of child gambling

Following alarming reports that child gambling is on the rise, we examine the methodology behind luring forms of advertising and tell you what to look out for.

A UK study from The Gambling Commission revealed that 450,000 children aged 11 to 16 are now betting regularly, with campaigners labelling the issue a ‘generational scandal’.

Despite CAP failsafes (UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing) instated for the protection of young people, gambling companies continue to exploit loopholes in legislation, while thinly veiled means of betting slip under the radar entirely.

Gen Z are renowned for their culture of instant gratification. Whether it’s immediate communication, news, food, or shopping, they’re all about convenience… convenience is the driver of efficiency, and technology is the vehicle to get them there.

It’s no surprise then that large numbers of teens are turning to ‘in-play’ betting apps like bet365 and Betfair in search of instant winnings. Bets can be placed, and stakes withdrawn at the touch of a button. It’s a match made in heaven.

Troublingly, 59% of 11 to 16-year-olds have seen gambling advertisements on social media with 24% actively following betting companies, and this pool are said to be three times as likely to spend money on these apps.

Sport – particularly football – is becoming increasingly interwoven with live gambling nowadays. You can’t get through a 90-minute match without being bombarded with ‘the tastiest odds’ from Ray Winstone during the half-time ads and even directly before kickoff. It’s becoming so normalised that it’s almost expected of spectators, and that’s a danger for younger generations.

While this kind of blatant advertising is easy for concerned parents to snuff out (and for savvy teens to avoid), there are more insidious forms of indoctrination when it comes to betting. Gaming, for instance, is becoming increasingly influential in exacerbating addictive behaviours in young people, and developers are capitalising on this for financial gain.

Freemium Facebook games and smartphone apps are readily available to anyone, and while they don’t require money to play, they do deploy algorithms that promote behaviour synonymous with gambling. They often encourage the player to engage with the games in frequent intervals to experience the ‘rush’ of winning – a known ‘problem gambling trigger’ – before being met with a ‘limited plays’ message or cool down times, which can be averted with in-game purchases. Shock!

The most concerning aspect of these types of games is that, for the most part, they’re purposefully geared towards attracting children. Seemingly harmless titles such as ‘Pirate Princess’ and ‘Fluffy Favourites’ slip under the radar of governing bodies, avoiding conventional watershed restrictions while appearing as recurring ads on teens’ socials, because they’re disguised by child-friendly content.

Similar dupes are present in several AAA console gaming titles, with young people investing large amounts of money for the chance of unlocking additional in-game content. Once bank details are saved onto the console, these often-extortionate loot boxes are free to be opened at will with literally no limit.

Subsequently, there are now countless reported cases of young gamers racking up bills of thousands using a parent’s card, and several global petitions have been created to demand these games be bumped up to 18-rated and officially deemed a form of gambling.

Unfortunately, not much is being done to challenge the companies responsible for this influx of young ‘problem gamblers,’ and hence it’s up to us to ensure we’re in a state of total awareness when it comes sniffing out these methods of indoctrination.

Gambling addiction is finally recognised as a behavioural disorder by the World Health Organisation, and thus should be treated with the gravity it deserves. A scratch card on a 16th birthday can, for some, be the start of a corrosive, life-long struggle and we simply must shine a light on the subject.

Beyond the commercial world, parents need to stress the importance of being self-aware when it comes to gambling (‘gambling responsibly’ if you will, but for real). Teachers need to educate young students on the issues in classes, doctors should be delving into their patients’ problematic habits, and debt advisers need to open up about the huge financial difficulties that stem almost entirely from gambling.

You should also share the responsibility yourself to protect your friends and family members from the dangers betting can carry. You may be inclined to have a little bet to enhance your experience as a spectator, or to open a fair few FIFA packs once ‘Team of the Year’ packs drop, but don’t let it become a burdensome habit. Constantly remind yourself of the inner workings of these industries and think about their motivations. Don’t get lost in routine.

Thankfully, Gen Z as a whole are incredibly self-aware and shrewd when it comes to making drastic lifestyle choices, and this discerning outlook will hopefully serve them well when dodging surreptitious materials in the future.

If you’re currently having any issues with addictive behaviour, or want to reach out on behalf of a friend or loved one, please talk to a professional here.