Children using debit cards to gamble online

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The Independent Online

Internet casinos and gambling companies are to be banned from taking debit card bets after it emerged that children have been using them to gamble on-line.

Internet casinos and gambling companies are to be banned from taking debit card bets after it emerged that children have been using them to gamble on-line.

The new Gambling Commission, which will be set up under sweeping reforms of Britain's gaming laws, will be given powers to bar internet betting sites from accepting bank cards such as Switch, Solo and Electron because banks are willing to issue them to children.

Ministers are to introduce the restrictions after gambling addiction experts warned that teenagers under 18, the minimum legal age for gambling, were regularly using internet sites to bypass existing age controls.

Whitehall sources confirmed last week that the commission will receive powers to prevent under-age gambling, unsuitable advertising and inadequate identity checks on players.

Gamcare, a charity specialising in problem gambling, has seen a surge in cases where children lied about their identities to register on internet sites, and either used their own debit cards or stole their parents'.

In one case, the charity discovered that, in January, a 14-year-old boy ran up gambling debts of more than £10,000 on his father's credit card in less than four days.

The boy, who lives in southern England, played blackjack after lying about his identity. His gambling spree emerged only after the card company spotted the surge in spending and asked his father to explain it.

Gamcare believes the main risks to children came from their increasing access to debit cards. The Halifax and NatWest. for example, will give Solo cards to 11-year-olds, which can be used to gamble on the internet, mobile phones or digital TV.

The Government's plans, expected to be introduced next year, are likely to lead to an explosion in "e-gaming". There are up to 4,000 sites worldwide; £800m is thought to have been bet online in Britain last year.

Many British internet gaming companies, such as Littlewoods' Betdirect, Blue Sq.com, Sportingbet, Ladbrokes and Stanleybet, allow clients to use debit cards and are expected to oppose attempts to ban them.

A spokesman for Ladbrokes said the industry was working with the banks to introduce new techniques to prevent children gambling. "Removing the ability to accept debit cards would be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," he said.

But Steven Miles, director of the Centre for Research into the Social Impact of Gambling at Plymouth University, said internet sites were potentially dangerous: " Virtually nothing is known about the impact of on-line gambling. It is a move into unknown territory."

* Sources at Amazon.com, Borders and other large US booksellers say the new laws will promote an explosion in sales of gambling-related books. Drawing on experience in Nevada, they have indicated that where there is gambling, there is also a massive market for "how to win" literature. The US gambling book market is estimated to be worth about $5m a year.

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