Government warns on underage gambling

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The Independent Online

Gambling companies and banks were told by the Government and children's charities yesterday that they are not doing enough to stop children betting on the internet.

Gambling companies and banks were told by the Government and children's charities yesterday that they are not doing enough to stop children betting on the internet.

At the Westminster Media Forum conference on internet gambling, in London, the Government said it would regulate the rapidly growing online gambling industry to protect children and other vulnerable members of society, but the financial services industry had to work with the gambling industry to share information so that the real age of online customers is properly checked.

Lord McIntosh, the minister responsible for gambling regulation, said: "The responsibility to stop underage gambling rests with gambling operators. They must establish effective identification and verification systems. Banks also have a part to play and we are talking to them about that."

John Carr, of the children's organisation NCH, said it had contacted 37 online gambling sites using the bank details of a 16-year-old, giving a false age, and it was blocked from placing a bet in only seven sites. One of the companies that allowed the underage user to gamble was William Hill, considered one of the UK's most respectable bookmakers.

Many sites accept transfers from debit cards such as Solo, which can be issued to children as young as 11. Some charities have called for the gambling industry to stop accepting transfers from such debit cards. Mr Carr said: "The way to stop under-18s gambling online is to force all payments to be made from credit cards, which are not issued to under-18s. It is clear that the majority of online gambling outfits have not made stopping children betting a priority."

Andrew Tottenham, of the Interactive Gaming and Gambling Association, said the Government needed to lobby the banking industry to install foolproof age verification systems. The Gambling Bill, which will go to the House of Lords this month, will make aiding and abetting a child to gamble a criminal offence. Mr Tottenham said: "The current systems for age verification are ineffective. We need the assistance of the banks to set up a foolproof system and we also need more pressure from Government."

David Harding, the chief executive of William Hill, said the group was experimenting with new software at the time the NCH research was carried out. He said the group operates a "no children" policy.

Under the new Gambling Bill, online betting will become a regulated and licensed activity. Anyone operating outside the UK and not in other permitted areas in Europe will not get a licence. This, Lord McIntosh said, would ensure UK punters would have a properly regulated online gambling regime.

But Mr Tottenham warned the Treasury: "If you over-regulate us and over-tax us, operators will simply go elsewhere."

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