A generation of children is being turned on to gambling by the National Lottery with the connivance of the promoters, broadcasters and retailers, a leading psychiatrist has warned.
Preliminary results of the first survey of under-16s found that almost two-thirds had bought lottery tickets, although it is against the law for retailers to sell to this age group. The percentage of under-age lottery players mirrors the overall participation rate.
Dr Emmanuel Moran, chairman of the National Council on Gambling, is calling for the weekly lottery draw to be shown after the 9pm watershed. "This is not family entertainment, it is gambling and gambling is for adults," he said yesterday.
Dr Moran also argues that tickets and instant scratch cards should be sold from licensed premises only, to reinforce the exclusion of children from gambling activities.
He says the hype surrounding the weekly broadcasting of the draw, the widespread sale of tickets to those under-age, and the heavy promotion of scratch cards alongside the sweet counter in some shops, could lead to gambling dependence in later life for vulnerable children.
Dr Moran's comments echo those of senior representatives of the main churches who last week attacked the lottery for "undermining public culture and damaging society", and called for the minimum age for playing to be raised to 18. The Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland also urged that no more licences for instant scratch cards be issued, and the size of jackpots to be limited to pounds 1m.
Society's consensus that gambling is an adult activity has been broken by the introduction of the National Lottery and the sale of tickets from ordinary retail outlets, Dr Moran says in a letter to be published in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal. Small regular pay-outs and huge publicity for the big winners reinforced the gambling tendency.
"We are storing up problems for the future. My experience is that people who regularly played fruit machines - the only other form of gambling that is allowed outside licensed premises - as children are now presenting in their twenties with serious gambling problems. We are paying the price for that. The same danger applies to the lottery."
Dr Moran added: "Addiction tends to develop over months or years and is driven by habit. The lottery is only a year old. In another year or two, we could be seeing addiction among youngsters."
Dr Moran said that instant scratch cards, with their promise of immediate riches, were a greater risk than the weekly draw for children because they provided a "quick fix". These had many of the features of "hard gaming, with large jackpots and 'heart stoppers' giving the illusion that the person has almost won a big prize".
A total of 187 children at a mixed-sex comprehensive school took part in the survey, carried out by Dr Moran, a consultant psychiatrist at Grovelands Priory Hospital, north London. It found that 114 (61 per cent) had bought tickets.
Dr Moran also points out in his letter to the BMJ that a survey earlier this year found that the weekly draw was the second most popular television programme among children aged between 10 and 15.
Another survey has suggested that the prohibition on sales of tickets and cards to children is unenforceable, with 62 per cent of outlets reported to sell tickets to the under-16s.
Dr Moran writes: "The availability and promotion of gambling facilities are important in the causation of pathological gambling. Before the introduction of the National Lottery, public policy under successive governments, including the present one, allowed gambling only to the extent needed to meet unstimulated demand. However, the lottery has been promoted vigorously and this has involved children."
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