450,000 kids gamble every week

Underage gambling among 11–15 year olds is more prolific than smoking or drinking, a new report warns, but bookies deny there’s a problem.

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The Independent Online

Parents and guardians are being warned to be vigilant following publication of a new report indicating that 450,000 children are gambling in England and Wales every week. 

The latest study by the Gambling Commission reveals that 16 per cent of 11–15 year olds gamble during a typical week, compared with 5 per cent that have smoked, 8 per cent that have drunk alcohol and 6 per cent that have taken drugs.

Around 9,000 children are considered 'problem gamblers', the commission warned, with boys twice as likely to engage in underage gambling as girls.

While there are some gambling activities that under 16s are legally allowed to take part in, like using a crane machine to win a toy or betting between friends, almost one in ten 11–15 year olds had gambled on a commercial premises in the last week, including betting shops, bingo halls and arcades where the law states only over 18s can gamble.

“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,” Tim Miller, Gambling Commission executive director, said. “We want to reassure parents that our rules require gambling businesses to prevent and tackle underage gambling and we take firm action where young people are not properly protected.

“We would encourage parents to speak to their children about the risks associated with gambling, so that if they choose to gamble in adulthood, they will do so in a safe and responsible way.”

But Andrew Lyman, group director of regulatory affairs for William Hill, finds it hard to believe that children under 16 are even getting into betting shops. “I’m not disputing that young people go into betting shops, but not children,” he says. “I just don’t believe that underage gambling in betting shops is rife.

“We operate a Think 21 policy. Anyone who looks under 21 who enters a betting shop should be asked for ID, with only those who can prove they are over 18 allowed to gamble. Others are asked to leave. Allowing an under 18 year old on our premises constitutes gross misconduct for our staff.

“Our age identification [process] is independently tested and shows incremental improvements in the last eight years. The current pass rate for bookmakers is 88 per cent, compared with 84 per cent for supermarkets and 80 per cent for bingo halls. 

“These may be the facts and we have a duty to protect children and young people from gambling, but I would dispute that there’s a significant problem in betting shops.”

Three quarters of 11-15 year olds have seen gambling advertisements on TV and almost two thirds have seen these on social media websites, the report also noted.

More information about gambling restriction rules and ways to protect children can be found here.

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