The Government must take action to tackle the “silent epidemic” of problem gambling among young people, a Christian advocacy group has urged.
The call comes after a new report warned that betting firms are flouting advertising regulations by encouraging children to engage with gambling adverts for esports tournaments.
“Betting companies are getting around advertising rules by making prolific use of social media where it is very difficult to ensure young people are protected from advertising,” James Mildred, Christian Action Research & Education’s (CARE) communications manager, told The Catholic Universe.
“Much of this advertising suggests that gambling is harmless fun but problem gambling can be absolutely devastating.
“The relentless pace of technological change means that our gambling laws are outdated and the Government needs to review where changes need to be made,” he continued.
“We are facing a silent epidemic of problem gambling among young people. When hundreds of thousands of 11-16-year-olds bet on a regular basis, surely action must be taken.”
Researchers found children under the age of 16 made up a quarter of online users who responded to Twitter posts giving betting odds for professional computer game tournaments.
The authors of Biddable Youth, the report by think-tank Demos and the Department of Management at the University of Bristol, have called on technology firms to use age verification tools to stop children from viewing gambling ads online.
Bookmakers have started offering odds for esports in response to the growing popularity of professional computer games competitions, as illustrated by the first Fortnite World Cup in America which had a $30 million (£24.75 million) prize fund.
The report analysed over 888,000 betting-related tweets over nine months in 2018, and found 28 per cent of retweets or replies to esports betting tweets in the UK were from children under 16. The figure rises to 45 per cent worldwide.
The UK figure is five times more than the amount of children who responded to betting tweets for traditional sports from bookmakers.
According to the report 74 per cent of the esports tweets appeared not to comply with advertising regulations by presenting gambling as an income source or encouraging gambling at unsociable times. Some also breached regulations by showing a person under 25 in a gambling advert.
The Committees of Advertising Practice Code says on its website that marketing for gambling ‘must not be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture, particularly if they are generally available to view by them’.
The new report, funded by GambleAware, also said parents are likely to be unaware of their children gambling online as they may be able to place bets without access to a bank account by using crypto currencies.
Josh Smith, co-author of the report, said: “This report explores a vital new field of gambling online, on the outcome of video games.
“Messages are produced to appeal particularly to children.
“This report shows that advertising regulations are being regularly flouted by gambling advertisers online.
“We hope this report is a call to action – both to technology companies to make it easier for gamblers to get a clear picture of what they’re getting into, and to regulators who must continue to ensure that these new actors are compliant with regulation.”
Picture: Boys playing on their smartphones. (FrankHoermann/SVEN SIMON/DPA/PA).