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About 25,000 children between 11 and 16 are problem gamblers
, with many learning to bet via computer games and social media, according to a report
that has prompted warnings that the UK is “sleepwalking into a future public health storm”.
In its annual survey of youth gambling
, the industry regulator the Gambling Commission voiced fears that children were gambling in a “consequence-free environment”, including through so-called “skins” betting on video games.
Its concerns prompted Labour, which deregulated the gambling industry in 2005 but has changed its stance
, to brand existing legislation “woefully out of date”.
About 12% of children in England, Scotland and Wales, or about 370,000, have gambled in the past week, doing so for the first time aged 12 on average, the commission found.
They spent an average of £10 on gambling a week, more than a third of their £28 income from work or pocket money, with 8% claiming to have spent more than £40.
Almost 1% of children between 11 and 16, or about 25,000, are defined as problem gamblers, with a further 36,000 at risk of developing a problem.
Fruit machines remain the most common introduction to gambling for young people at 24%, followed by the National Lottery at 21%.
But the commission said children were increasingly being exposed to gambling in less traditional ways, such as computer games and social media.
The report found that 11% of children took part in “skins” betting, whereby online gamers can bet using in-game items, such as weapons or outfits, some of which have real monetary value.
More than one in 10 reported having played casino-style games accessible on Facebook or smartphone apps, while the same proportion followed a gambling company on social media.
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said the party would redraw the UK’s gambling laws to tighten up regulation and address emerging risks.
“The rise of ‘skins’ gambling and other forms of gambling online, or in games which encourage children to trade in cosmetic online items for cash, only serves to demonstrate that our gambling laws are woefully out of date.
“The next Labour government will bring in a new gambling act that ensures our gambling laws are fit for the digital age and finally tackle Britain’s hidden gambling epidemic.”
The commission’s chief executive, Sarah Harrison, has previously labelled unlicensed websites that allow children to gamble on video games “parasites
The report offers some insight into the extent to which children are exposed to gambling, with 80% saying they have seen adverts on television and 70% through social media.
“It is worrying that children continue to be bombarded with adverts promoting gambling through TV, online and via social media,” said Watson.
Marc Etches, chief executive of the leading problem gambling charity, GambleAware, said the UK was “in great danger of sleepwalking into a future public health storm over gambling-related harm”.
He added: “[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 and this report absolutely bears that out.”