The following article by the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, was published in the Daily Telegraph.
Britain is facing a ‘generational time bomb’ of children conditioned to think that gambling is normal
17 AUGUST 2018 • 9:30 PM
Ask any parent or teacher and they will tell you children play a lot of online games, including Fortnite which has taken the world by storm. What they might not know is that these games allow children to gamble quite openly – just without money.
This is all legal because of a loophole. And at the same time, whether on tablets or phones, children are bombarded with ads which make gambling sound like harmless fun.
The combined effect of these two factors is that, like Pavlov’s Dogs, a generation of children are being conditioned to gamble.
Our current legislation allows such games as they fall outside the provisions of the Gambling Act 2005 as they do not offer monetary prizes.
This means internet companies can label these apps ‘age appropriate’ when they’re really nothing of the sort. Even apps which mimic slot machines and promise users ‘the Vegas casino thrill anytime, anywhere’ are accessible to children.
Young users do not just learn the technicalities of gambling games like slot machines but they are subconsciously learning the habit of soliciting thrills through these games.
New research from the UK Gambling Commission’s found that more than 370,000 young people aged 11 to 16 years old are already gambling weekly. It discovered that about 25,000 children are addicted to gambling or suffer from a gambling-related condition, and believes that as many as a further 36,000 are at risk of becoming addicted.
Britain faces a generational time-bomb of children who have been conditioned to think gambling is normal. Problem-gambling is tragic and reportedly two people, linked to gambling, take their own lives every working day.
At a recent meeting of my diocesan synod which debated this topic, I was surprised at the widespread anxiety about children and gambling, and at the desire to address what was perceived to be a growing problem.
This may be linked with the sheer quantity of gambling adverts during the World Cup. The huge rise in betting companies targeting the championship is normalizing gambling and giving the impression that it is an essential aspect of sport. At the same time the evidence is beginning to mount that children raised on the gambling apps are far more likely to switch from these cash-free prize games to betting with money when they reach adulthood.
It may not be immediately apparent but some experts believe that we may already be at the early stages of a gambling epidemic among the young, driven by a powerful and well-funded gambling lobby.
Research is shamefully patchy. We need a better understanding of the size and nature of the problem. Gambling addiction among children needs to be documented by academics independent of the gambling lobby or the Treasury.
Philip Hammond’s department currently has a vested interest in the growth of gambling shamefully exposed by the long delay in implementing the decision to reduce the stakes on Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT).
Britain also needs a compulsory betting levy for UK and offshore firms which can be used to support those who are addicted to gambling just as there is a compulsory betting levy for horse racing.
Currently, parents do not have information on these apps and many may be worried that a young person shows signs of addiction. The provision of information needs to be backed up by an independent national helpline for those who need advice and support.
We need to review the Gambling Act 2005 and to extend the definition of ‘prizes’ beyond money to including virtual rewards which can be exchanged for cash.
We cannot risk normalising gambling for children through the subtle influence of gaming apps or through constant adverts during sports fixtures or online. As a society we took on Big Tobacco because of the damage it was doing to our children. Is it not time we now take the fight to the gambling lobby to protect our young people?