Gambling in children and young people

Updated: 4 days ago

Evidence from Great Britain reflects that gambling is one of the more popular activities among 11–16 year olds. However, the industry comment that most of this gambling is done legally through private betting, significant numbers of young people enter licensed gambling venues illegally. Brain imaging studies have shown that brain development continues until the age of 25. The brain area related to decision-making and addictive behaviour is among the last to develop. Thus, it is not surprising that gambling harms, similar to other harmful behaviours, are most common in 16–24 year olds. As well as being vulnerable to harms from their gambling with potentially devastating life-long effects, young people are especially susceptible to harms from a family member’s gambling, which has not been considered in research until recently.


The Gambling Act 2005 sets out three licensing objectives 42

  1. “preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime

  2. ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way

  3. protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling

Summary

The third licensing objective in the Gambling Act 2005 specifically singles out children as a vulnerable group who should be protected from being harmed or exploited by gambling. Gambling-harms in young people are of particular significance; young people are more vulnerable to harm, and these harms can have a significant impact, both now and in the future. Moreover, as well as experiencing harm from their gambling, young people can also be susceptible to harm from an immediate family member's gambling through parental neglect or from other stresses, as detailed in the appendix.


There is consistent and robust evidence from imaging studies that brain development continues through adolescence and does not complete until the age of 25 or later. Furthermore, the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain tied to addictive behaviours due to its role in regulating reward regions of the brain and its involvement in higher-order executive function, is among the last to develop. Moreover, similar to other addictive products, such as alcohol and recreational drugs, the age of onset for first gambling is significantly associated with gambling disorder in later life.


In Great Britain, the legal age for gambling varies by product. Some gambling products have no age-restrictions, others restricted for individuals 16 years and older, with traditional gambling products having the legal age of 18. Remarkably, loot boxes, although the most popular wagering activity among under 16s, are not yet considered a form of gambling and therefore unregulated. On top of games of chance where children can lose money, popular video games such as Grand Theft Auto 5 feature simulated gambling where players can gamble for virtual currencies.


Despite all this, young people have profoundly limited access to appropriate treatment, help, or support. Notably, contrasting with the widespread recognition for substance-use harm, gambling-harm does not feature in competency-based curriculums for specialists in child and adolescent psychiatry (CAMHS).


What is known?

Legal definitions of youth and age of maturity 43

  • The age of majority is 18 years in all EU Member States except for Scotland, where children are considered to have full legal capacity from the age of 16 years.

  • In EU Member States, the term ‘youth’ is the only term used to describe an age group that goes beyond 18 years. It is often used when States want to include young adults as well, sometimes up to the age of 30 years.

  • The UN’s definition on the term ‘youth’ includes all persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years; UNESCO uses a wider and more flexible definition depending on the context.

  • In the EU Strategy for Youth, the term ‘youth’ refers to teenagers and young adults aged between 13 and 30 years.

  • EUROSTAT statistics consider the youth population to be aged between 15 and 29 years.

Brain development during adolescence and youth 44

  • Brain maturation occurs during adolescence due to a surge in the synthesis of sex hormones.

  • Types of studies that have provided evidence that structural and functional brain development is an active stage of maturation until at least the age of 25

  • neuromorphological,

  • neurochemical,

  • neurophysiological,

  • neurobehavioral,

  • neuropharmacological, and

  • brain imaging studies

Legal age of gambling by product 45

  • No age limit

  • Private or Non-Commercial Betting

  • Equal chance gaming

  • Prize gaming at entertainment centre or travelling fair

  • Category D gaming machines

  • Games of chance in video-games (not considered gambling)

  • 16 years old

  • National lottery tickets and scratchcards in shops (18 from October 2021)

  • National lottery tickets and scratchcards online (18 from April 2021)

  • 18 years old

  • Casino, betting shops or licensed premises

  • Category A, B1, B2, B3, B3A, B4 and C gaming machines

  • Football pool

Gambling among secondary school students (11-16 year olds)

  • >1 million 11-16 year olds gambled in the past-year 46

  • In 2018, gambling (14%) was more popular as a past-week activity among 11-16 year olds than alcohol use (13%), tobacco use (4%), and drug-taking (2%) 47

  • In 2019, gambling (11%) was less prevalent as a past-week activity among 11-16 year olds than alcohol use (16%), but more common than tobacco cigarettes (6%), e-cigarettes (7%), and drug-taking (5%) 46

  • In 2019, the most prevalent past-week gambling activity (excluding video game gambling) among 11-16 year olds was placing a private bet for money (e.g. with friends) at 5%, followed by: 46

  • Fruit or slot machines (e.g. at an arcade, pub or club): 4%

  • National Lottery scratchcards which you bought in a shop: 3%

  • Playing cards for money with friends: 3

  • Personally placing a bet at a betting shop: 3%

  • Lotto (the main National Lottery draw): 2%

  • National Lottery instant win games on the internet: 2%

  • Any other National Lottery games (e.g. EuroMillions): 2%

  • Other Lotteries: 2%

  • Bingo at a bingo club: 2%

  • Bingo at somewhere other than a bingo club: 2%

  • Personally visiting a betting shop to play gaming machines: 2%

  • Playing other gambling machines: 2%

  • Personally visiting a casino to play casino games: 2%

  • Gambling websites/apps where you can win real money: 2%

  • Any other gambling: 3%

  • The most popular form of games of chance with money are in video games

  • Ever-played 46

  • Used in-game items to open loot boxes/crates/packs to get other in-game items within the game you were playing

  • 11-16 year olds: 28%

  • Paid money to open loot boxes/crates/packs to get other in-game items within the game you were playing

  • 11-16 year olds: 23%

  • Bet with in-game items on website outside of the game or privately (e.g. with friends)11-16 year olds: 3%

  • Past-year 48

  • Paid money to open loot boxes

  • 10-16 year olds: 20%

  • Past-week 49

  • Paid money to open loot boxes

  • 11-14 year olds: 27%

  • 18+ year olds: 16%

Investigations into under age gambling

  • The Gambling Commission ran a test at the Royal Ascot in 2014, where all 20 bookmarkers served a 16-year old without asking for proof of age, and consequently received a written warning. In 2019, this test was repeated, with 7 out of 17 failing to ask for ID. 50,51

Gambling-harm among children and young people

  • In 11-16 year old school students 46,52

  • Meta-analysis of prevalence in 2018 – 2020 46,47,52

  • By frequency

  • Past week gambling: 9% - 14%

  • Past year gambling: 36% - 39%

  • By harm level

  • Low-risk and moderate-risk harm gambling: 2.2% - 2.7%

  • Gambling disorder harm gambling: 1.7% - 1.9

  • Other gambling: 32% - 33%

  • DSM-IV-MR J harms: 46

  • Found yourself thinking about gambling or planning to gamble

  • often: 1.7%

  • Gambled to escape from problems or when you were feeling bad

  • sometimes or often: 2.0%

  • Felt bad or fed up when trying to cut down on gambling

  • sometimes or often: 1.2%

  • Needed to gamble with more and more money to get the amount of excitement you want

  • sometimes or often: 1.9%

  • Spent much more than you planned to on gambling

  • sometimes or often: 1.6%

  • Taken money without permission to spend on gambling (any one or more of the following: dinner money or fare money, money from family, money from things you’ve sold, money from outside the family, or somewhere else)

  • Any one or more of the above: 3.8%

  • Gambling led to risk relationships (any one or more of the following: arguments with family/friends or others, missing school):

  • Any one or more of the above: 2.5%

  • Gambling ever led to telling lies to family/friends or others

  • once or twice or sometimes or often: 2.1%

  • After losing money by gambling, have you returned another day to try to win back the money you lost

  • more than half the time or every time: 1.6%

  • Other harms 52

  • Lost sleep at night because you went to bed late because you were gambling

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 2.5%

  • often or all the time: 1.1%

  • Lost sleep at night because you were worried about own gambling

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 1.7%

  • often or all the time: 0.3%

  • Stopped you from buying things you wanted

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 4.3%

  • often or all the time: 1.3%

  • Made it hard for you to concentrate at school

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 3.8%

  • often or all the time: 1.4%

  • Made it hard for you to put effort into your homework or personal study

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 3.4%

  • often or all the time: 1.4%

  • Made you not feel comfortable around your friends

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 2.7%

  • often or all the time: 0.9%

  • In 11-16 year olds school students (statistics of harmed by an immediate family member(s) gambling) 52

  • Felt bad because of gambling among family members: 5.5% 46

  • Lost sleep at night because of worrying about a family member’s gambling

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 4.9%

  • often or all the time: 1.3%

  • Not had enough food (food at home or money on school canteen card/account)

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 1.8%

  • often or all the time: 1.1%

  • Stopped you from belonging to clubs or doing activities you like doing

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 1.3%

  • often or all the time: 1.0%

  • Stopped you from going on trips (e.g. family holidays or school outings

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 1.8%

  • often or all the time: 0.9%

  • Parent’s or guardians have less time to spend with you

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 1.6%

  • often or all the time: 1.0%

  • More arguments or tension at home

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 2.1%

  • often or all the time: 1.2%

  • Has made you feel sad

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 2.4%

  • often or all the time: 0.6%

  • Has made you feel worried

  • rarely or sometimes or often or all the time: 2.9%

  • often or all the time: 0.7%

  • In 18-24 year old university students 53

  • 47% of students gambled in the past 12 months

  • 8% of which suffer low-risk harm

  • 8% of which suffer moderate-risk harms

  • 8% of which suffer gambling disorder harms

  • Overall, 11% of students suffer significant harm from their gambling, and 4% of students suffer the most severe level of harm from their gambling

What the industry said?

Matthew Hill, Director of the Gambling Commission 50

“This was a pretty poor result. Preventing under 18s from gambling is one of the most basic obligations every bookmaker has, on or off the course. The industry must do better or operators are likely to find themselves facing formal sanctions.”


Hill warns operators of the possibility of sanctions for failing to protect children from gambling as all twenty operators tested allowed a 16 year old to gamble at the Royal Ascot 2014.


Richard Watson, Executive Director of the Gambling Commission 51

“Every single gambling business must protect children from gambling but the on course bookmakers results have remained unacceptable. Despite various educational attempts to raise standards, by ourselves and the trade bodies, the on-course sector has historically performed poorly in both underage gambling test purchase exercises and Think 21 testing.

Pass rates have failed to meet the standards expected and the sector has consistently performed to levels below those we see in other gambling and age restricted products. By way of example, over the past four years, the on-course sector has a pass rate of around 35% for Think 21 testing.”


Watson reports that on-course bookmakers fail to meet the standards expected in preventing underage gambling following an investigation where 7 out of 17 operators allowed a 16 year old to gamble at the Royal Ascot 2019.


Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting Gaming Council 12

“We have already done a lot and we are ready to go even further to prevent underage gambling”


Dugher refuses to accept responsibility for industry failings in meeting one of the three licensing objectives. Instead, he uses a vague statement and commitment to defend the prevalence of underage gambling.


Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting Gaming Council 12

"far from trying to entice children to gamble, regulated members of the BGC have a zero tolerance approach to betting by under-18s," and that they welcome the raising of the age limit from 16 to 18 for lottery products.


Dugher suggests that regulated members of the BGC have a zero-tolerance approach to underage gambling, despite prevalence statistics and undercover investigations by the Gambling Commission reflecting the contrary.


Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting Gaming Council 36

"I'm also pleased to see that new age-verification and ID checks have resulted in literally hundreds of thousands of accounts being closed recently, where the customer was unable or unwilling to meet the new strict criteria"


Dugher reports feeling pleased that the Gambling Commission set rules that mandate operators to verify customers age and identity before allowing them to gamble.


Tim Miller, Executive Director of the Gambling Commission 54

“There's no doubt that today's figures on children and gambling should make people sit up and listen, he said. But while discussions about children gambling might conjure up images of kids sneaking into bookies or sitting alone on their iPad gambling on an online casino, our latest research paints a more complex picture. The most common activities that children gamble on are not licensed casinos, bingo providers or bookies. Instead we found children preferred to gamble in informal environments, out of sight of regulation - private bets between friends or playing cards with their mates for money.”


Miller states that gambling figures for young people are worrying but argues that underage gambling is not happening mainly in betting shops or online. Although non-regulated forms of activity such as video game gambling and private betting may be more common among 11-16 year olds, staggering numbers of this population are able to enter licensed betting premises and gamble.

Marc Etches, CEO of GambleAware 17

"Computer gaming with gambling presents real future challenges to the current regulatory framework. We've been saying for some time we have concern about the normalisation of gambling for young people..."


Etches points to the regulatory gap in recognising games of chance in computer gaming as part of gambling.

Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting Gaming Council 55

“tackling betting by under 18s is a top priority. BGC members have a zero tolerance approach to underage betting - unlike the illegal, online black market - but are determined to do more to protect young people.”


Dugher acknowledges that betting by under 18s is an issue and that it is a top priority. He also states that BGC members have a zero-tolerance approach to underage betting despite consistent statistics of 11-16 year olds entering licensed betting premises such as casinos and betting shops in the past week.


References


12. Michael Dugher. It’s important that the Gambling Review tackles betting by under-18s – but let’s deal in facts, not fiction. Available from: https://www.politicshome.com/members/article/michael-dugher-its-important-that-the-gambling-review-tackles-betting-by-under18s-but-lets-deal-in-facts-not-fiction [Accessed: 28th March 2021]

17. Davies R. 25,000 children in Britain are problem gamblers, report finds. The Guardian. 12 December 2017. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/12/children-britain-problem-gamblers-report [Accessed: 29th March 2021]

36. Dugher M. We Need Big Changes And A Race To The Top On Standards In Gambling. Available from: https://bettingandgamingcouncil.com/news/michael-dugher [Accessed: 29th March 2021]

42. Gambling Commission. Part 5: Principles to be applied by licensing authorities. Available from: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/for-licensing-authorities/GLA/Part-5-Principles-to-be-applied-by-licensing-authorities.aspx [Accessed: 30th March 2021]

43. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Age of majority. Available from: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2017/mapping-minimum-age-requirements/age-majority [Accessed: 22nd March 2021]

44. Arain M, Haque M, Johal L, Mathur P, Nel W, Rais A, et al. Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2013;449–461. Available from: doi:10.2147/NDT.S39776

45. Great Britain. Gambling Act 2005: Elizabeth II. Chapter 19. London: The Stationery Office; 2001.

46. The Gambling Commission. Young People and Gambling Survey 2019. The Gambling Commission. 2019.

47. Gambling Commission. Young People & Gambling 2018. Gambling Commission. 2018.

48. Parent Zone. The Rip-Off Games: How the new business model of online gaming exploits children. Parent Zone. 2019.

49. Royal Society for Public Health. Skins in the Game. Royal Society for Public Health. 2019.

50. Gambling Commission. Twenty bookmakers at Ascot allowed 16-year-old to bet: operators warned they must improve underage gambling controls. Gambling Commission. 2 July 2014. Available from: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news-action-and-statistics/News/twenty-bookmakers-at-ascot-allowed-16-year-old-to-bet-operators-warned-they-must-improve-underage-gambling-controls [Accessed: 23rd March 2021]

51. Gambling Commission. On course bookies face licence reviews. Gambling Commission. 30 July 2019. Available from: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news-action-and-statistics/news/2019/On-course-bookies-face-licence-reviews.aspx [Accessed: 23rd March 2021]

52. Gambling Commission. Young People and Gambling. Available from: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news-action-and-statistics/Statistics-and-research/Levels-of-participation-and-problem-gambling/Young-persons-survey.aspx [Accessed: 28th February 2021]

53. Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust. How gaming & gambling affect student life. Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust. 2019.

54. BBC News. Number of child gamblers quadruples in just two years. BBC News. 21 November 2018. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46286945 [Accessed: 29th March 2021]

55. Betting and Gaming Council. BGC Chief Executive @MichaelDugher says tackling betting by under 18s is a top priority. BGC members have a zero tolerance approach to underage betting - unlike the illegal, online black market - but are determined to do more to protect young people. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/BettingAndGamingCouncil/photos/a.105106001278691/330551518734137/?type=3 [Accessed: 29th March 2021]