Gaming sites are a big hit with kids – but do they harm them?
Neasa MacErlean asks if regulation is needed to stop habits forming as children flock to free sites
Friday 05 July 2013
Just as the dangers of internet porn for children and teenagers are being highlighted by campaigners, another potential problem area has been brought to the surface. According to a report from the Gambling Commission, an estimated one in ten 11-12 year-olds regularly take part in virtual – but free – internet gambling. The big question is whether this will develop into a problem in later life – or will they, instead, just enjoy themselves without suffering any harm?
The participation of children in online gambling, mainly via Facebook, is hidden in a landscape that is fast becoming overgrown. Most areas of gambling activity are on the rise despite the economic downturn. Regulatory body the Gambling Commission, which publishes its annual report on 9 July, has just released figures showing an overall 5 per cent increase in revenues, after prize money has been paid, for the gambling industry.
The arcades sector was the only one to show a decrease in the commission's review of the year to last September. Growth was registered in the betting, bingo, casino, remote (such as online) and lotteries sectors.
Gambling is also on the rise among women. Even excluding the National Lottery, most women now gamble – and the proportion rose at a rate of over 1 per cent a year during the 2000s to take it to 53 per cent in 2010, according to the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS). The author of that study, Heather Wardle, research director of the social research institute NatCen, said: “There is quite a clear pattern of an increase among women. I'd be surprised if it didn't continue.”
Meanwhile, gamblers are turning more and more to their phones and tablets. “Mobile and touchscreens are revolutionising gaming,” said Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga, the world's largest provider of social gaming services.
Zynga – in partnership with the Gibraltar-based Bwin.party – opened in the UK in April, offering over 180 casino games online. William Hill launched new apps for mobiles and tablets last year – and has reported a 298 per cent increase in business this year (albeit from a relatively small base). And at Ladbrokes, mobile revenues went up 94 per cent in the first quarter.
Gambling may have various negative social consequences but it brings in about 0.5 per cent of national income, according to the accountancy firm Deloitte, and employs 108,000 people, according to the Gambling Commission. Central government often seems reluctant to clamp down on the sector – allowing, for instance, a proliferation of betting shops and slot machines to develop in many areas.
Regulation has been falling behind practice in some areas. The kind of virtual gambling in which children participate via social media sites is currently outside the remit of the regulators.
The Gambling Commission paid for the research, which included the statistics on children, for the Exploring Social Gambling report, to help it understand the risks. But many parents will believe that it should start regulating the area. One problem for the commission is that about 80 per cent of general online gambling is outside its remit as it does not regulate companies based abroad, although that is set to be rectified by the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising), Bill which is currently going through Parliament.
Another potential concern for regulators, and for members of the public who would like to examine the issue of gamblers under the age of 18, is that the BGPS, which gave detailed data on children as well as adults, has been axed in spending cuts. It has been replaced via the addition of questions to the English and Scottish Health Surveys (due out later this year) but these questions do not cover under-18s.
The Exploring Social Gambling report suggests that one in six boys, and one in 16 girls, aged 11 to 16 are taking part in “Freemium” casinos and other gambling online. This means they can gain access to the main game for free –as 97 per cent of Freemium gamers do –without using real money to pay for extras. However, Ms Wardle does not want to jump to conclusions: “There has been a lot of concern that there could be a gateway here. Equally, this could be a really safe way for children to play with risk without having to pay anything.” That view is supported by Elaine Smethurst, managing director of the Gordon Moody Association, which provides therapy for very heavy gamblers. “It's usual for teenagers to engage in risky behaviour,” she says. “Most people go through it and come out the other side.”
But both are concerned about young gamblers and provide more reasons as to why the area should be carefully monitored. Ms Wardle's research in the BGPS shows that children of regular, problem gamblers are 7.2 times more likely to become problem gamblers themselves. And she adds: “A predictor of experiencing problem gambling is starting to gamble at a young age and having an early big win.”
Gordon Moody's research shows that 74 per cent of its clients in 2012 began gambling under the age of 18, with 6 per cent starting under the age of eight. “A lot of them describe their first experience as being at the seaside with their family,” adds Ms Smethurst.
GamCare, the free advice service, says students are regular callers to its helpline. “Students can lose a lot of money in a short time without knowing it,” says Gamcare's chief executive, Dirk Hansen. “They don't even know what's happened sometimes. They just want someone to fix it.”
Ms Smethurst urges parents to be attentive. “It's really important to keep an eye out for extremes of behaviour – such as a child spending too much or isolating themselves.” Both she and Mr Hansen have seen the dire consequences of student gambling – the remortgaging of the parents' house, for instance, or students having to quit university when the gaming obsession leaves no time for studying. When students get hooked, “they begin to isolate more and more,” says Mr Hansen.
Although problem gamblers amount to about 0.9 per cent of adults, says the BGPS, only one in ten of them are getting assistance. There is help out there. GamCare is the main resource centre, and 60,000 people rang it last year. It also has an online forum for people who prefer communicating with other gamblers rather than counsellors. In November, the BigDeal site was launched by GamCare, aimed at teenagers.
Ms Smethurst also recommends Bet Filter, a web service that blocks access to gambling sites. Individuals can also “self-exclude” by asking their local casinos or betting shops to refuse entry.
More research is needed to understand whether, for instance, young people who enter free online casinos regularly are more likely to become hooked on gambling later. Some action may be needed. Being unregulated, Freemium gambling is open to people of all ages – while most traditional gambling is limited to those aged 18 or over.
However, Ms Smethurst is keen we wait until we understand the situation better before taking dramatic action. “We shouldn't over-react. For the vast majority of people, gambling is a leisure pursuit,” she says.
And, as any parent knows, the banning of activities – from staying out late to smoking – is almost guaranteed to increase interest.
Case study: "I'd throw coins at the wall just to see which side turned over"
Jimmy Connors, double wimbledon champion
“I've been a gambling man all my life,” says Jimmy Connors in his newly published autobiography, The Outsider. “As a kid I'd bet on anything: a game of pool or the football ... Hell, I'd throw quarters against the wall just to see which side turned over.”
His father and brother were also gamblers. And the inevitable happened when his brother, who owned a riverboat gaming company on the Mississippi, doubled as the tennis star's financial manager – and regularly dipped into his winnings. When the deceit was discovered, the pair barely spoke for 17 years.
Connors is candid about his own problem: “I play until I can't any more.” In Las Vegas once, he lost $60,000 in four hours and had to win the tournament he was playing in to pay the debt. He used to bet heavily on himself and one of his worst stories involves his Wimbledon driver, Ken, following suit and betting far more than he could afford on the 33-year-old Connors winning the 1986 tournament. Connors went out in round one and felt obliged to give his driver an extra large tip that year to make up.
His gambling also affected relationships at home. Wife Patti complained that when they were out with their children, he would “spend more time on the phone calling the sports lines” than he did talking to them. In the end he changed course after attending one Gamblers Anonymous meeting. He never returned to GA but limited himself to golf bets for five years.
Aged 60, he now says he remains a gambler and doesn't want to change, regarding some sports betting with friends as “a form of socialising”.
However, he adds: “Gambling doesn't dominate my life any more. I won't let it.”
27 February 2015 07:30 PM
27 February 2015 07:30 PM
27 February 2015 12:01 AM
The NHS is currently bearing a yearly burden of approximately £1.5bn treating cold-related illnesses every winter
26 February 2015 04:17 PM
Hundreds of thousands of people's policies were hit when the mutual insurer almost collapsed at the turn of the century
27 February 2015 12:01 AM
The Department for Work and Pensions has been slammed after a series of cock-ups left an elderly pensioner £26,000 worse off.
24 February 2015 08:57 AM
A 20-month investigation concluded that a lack of price competition between lenders has led to higher costs for borrowers
23 February 2015 04:02 PM
The Financial Conduct Authority said the industry needs to start thinking about solutions to these challenges
20 February 2015 08:00 PM
In 1999 stock markets quickly tumbled, losing many a fortune in the process
20 February 2015 08:00 PM
13 February 2015 08:00 PM
13 February 2015 08:00 PM
06 February 2015 09:00 PM
Bargain Hunter: Affordable art - suddenly being a collector is just a walk in the park
Phoenix Life: Chance of a refund for overcharged policyholders has risen
Money Insider: Peer-to-peer lenders come into their own as marketplace lending evolves
Has your Premium Bond won the £1million jackpot?
There are 'dark corners' of the investment and pensions industry, says Pension Minister
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
iJobs Money & Business
£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...
£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...
£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...
£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...
Day In a Page
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads