The UK's utmost gambling authority, the UKGC (UK Gambling Commission) recently published a report which claims the figures for underage gambling has remained “relatively static” over the last 5 years. Between 2012 and 2016, the amount of children in England and Wales who take part in any form of gambling activity appears to fluctuate between 15 and 18%.
This indicates no sign that underage gambling is going away or increasing. Even so, it is rather troubling as it seems to show not enough is being done to prevent it. While it's inevitable that children (anyone under the age of 18) will take part in a cheeky bit of gambling at some point, the amount of those who do it on a regular basis is worryingly high. But what can be done to reduce it? Is it really an issue at all?
According to the UKGC, throughout 2016 so far the number of young people in England and Wales who have been known to take part in any kind of gambling has fallen by 1% from the previous year. Between 2013 and 2015, however, there was a steady incline of 1% a year, from 15 – 17%. In 2012, the figure was a solid 18%. There are over 15 million children in the UK so with figures like that, easily over 2 million of them have gambled in one form or another.
Taking a look of 11 to 15-year-olds in particular, the most common activities found among underage gamblers, the UKGC said, turned out to be fruit machines alongside private bets and the national lottery, all holding 4-5% of total gambling activity.
Looking at the details, it's easy to see why these would be so high. Fruit machines are in every pub in England and can be easily mistaken for anything other than a betting machine. The national lottery could have been done through their parents buying them tickets. Private bets, on the other hand, cannot possibly be regulated on the same level as the previous two.
Which leads us to the question: is underage gambling really an issue we should be worried about? With well over 2 million child gamblers, it was proven by the UKGC that only 0.2% of the UK's child population are problem gamblers. Out of the 16% currently gambling that is a comparatively small number…
But, 0.2% of 12 million is still well over hundreds of thousands! It's a lot more than there should be. In short: yes, it is a problem, but only because underage problem gambling should, theoretically, not exist at all. Then again, one can argue that child poverty shouldn't exist yet it does.
The only thing that can be done about it is to reduce the figures. We think that problem gambling is low enough with children for it to become eradicated almost entirely so the government and, by extent the UKGC, should take steps to accomplish this. According to the UKGC's figures, many children see gambling advertised online and on TV and this could be a huge source of the problem.
While we certainly don't like to be an advocate for censorship, we do think that more restrictions should be implemented with these advertising agencies to stop children being tempted to gamble. After all, the government has banned smoking advertising completely and has restricted advertising alcohol to post-watershed.
Of course, it's not all up to the advertising agencies. It's also the parents' responsibility to ensure their children do not partake in any illegal gambling activities. The lottery isn't particularly harmful, neither is one or two goes on the fruit machine, as long as said children are regulated. But parents must be careful what they do in front of their children. If they themselves are demonstrating signs of problem gambling then their child is more likely to imitate what that behaviour and fall under the same addiction.
Whether this year's 1% decline in underage gambling is the sign of a new trend is too early to tell. Let's hope that, along with the general gambling, the number of underage problem gamblers goes down with it.