The internet revolutionized gambling in the late 1990s. Anyone with an internet connection could simply launch their browser of choice, find an online casino or sports-betting site catering to their personal tastes, and start placing bets.
Online gambling has moved on considerably since then. Smartphones equip us with access to online casinos and betting sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You don’t even need to be at your desktop or laptop computer at all: mobile-optimized websites invite you to bet on slots, table games or sports events wherever you are.
This widespread, instant access to a world of gambling means everyone — including underage people — can become hooked far easier than they would have in the past. And that’s a very real problem.
The Rise of Underage Online Gambling
Research by the UK’s Gambling Commission reveals 450,000 children from age 11 to 16 wager money on a regular basis — and the number of those considered to have a problem has quadrupled to over 50,000 within two years.
That’s a shocking insight into the ease with which young, vulnerable people are developing serious addiction problems earlier than they otherwise might have before. While not all of the blame can be assigned to online gambling, websites nevertheless play a large part in the growth of addiction.
Smartphone apps and video games containing loot boxes (such as EA’s Star Wars Battlefront 2, which came under heavy fire for its ‘gambling’ feature) are a particularly-dangerous trend, especially when they appear in games parents may assume are safe for their children.
In fairness to online casinos and sports-betting websites, regulations are in place to prevent underage gambling. Real-money games can be played only by people who create accounts and verify their ID, which makes bypassing checks much harder (if not impossible).
However, certain children can find ways to join online casinos using a parent’s or older sibling’s details. Betting companies can only do so much. The rest is down to parents and communities.
The Role of Parents in the War on Underage Gambling
The media often sheds light on rampant access to hardcore pornography and other material unsuitable for young children, yet underage gambling tends to be overlooked. Parents who provide their children with an internet connection (or a smartphone with a generous data package) could all contribute to the problem of underage gambling.
While we all want to trust our children to behave responsibly and make smart choices, it’s vital to take positive steps to protect them. If not, underage gamblers could develop unhealthy habits that overshadow the rest of their lives — young people becoming involved in underage gambling are 300% more likely to become addicted.
This may lead them down a path of debt, unemployment, difficulty maintaining relationships and, ultimately, an inability to live a healthy lifestyle.
But parents and gambling regulators have their work cut out for them, considering the amount of advertising online gambling businesses receive in the media. 40% of underage gamblers had viewed an ad for a betting brand on television more than one time each week, and 24% tried their luck for the first time to win money.
Online gambling brands should not be advertised when underage viewers are likely to be exposed to them. In the UK, regulators have already taken strict steps to minimize the amount of gambling-related ads which appear on child-friendly websites, aps or television programs.
A number of commercials have been banned for using too much ‘child-baiting’ imagery, and further regulations are expected to come into effect in the near future. Regulating advertising on the internet is much harder, but organizations and brands must work together to safeguard underage people from dangers they may not fully comprehend.
What can You do to Stop Your Child Gambling Online?
What can you do if you’re concerned your child may be developing a gambling problem?
- Install filtering software on computers and block as many gambling websites as possible to prevent access
- Talk to them about the dangers of gambling in a frank, open way
- Monitor your credit cards and bank accounts closely, or your child could use your details to place bets without you even realizing
- Make sure children understand it is illegal for them to gamble
- Try to reduce the amount of time your child spends online alone — organize more family activities and place the shared computer in the living room
- Restrict access to Wi-Fi in the house: if they have to ask you for the password whenever they want to go online, they are less likely to engage in behavior they know they shouldn’t
Follow these tips to reduce your child’s risk of developing a gambling problem.
Try to maintain a policy of open communication and honesty in your household: make sure children know they can talk to you about anything. This means that, if they do become involved in underage online gambling, they’re more likely to approach you for help sooner rather than later.
Photo is by BagoGames on flickr – some rights reserved
Guest Author Bio
My name is Anna Maroon. I’m 30 years old and I’ve been working as a journalist for almost a decade. During my career, I’ve covered numerous potentially harmful social trends. Now, underage gambling joins the list. While responsible adult gambling, whether online or in a brick & mortar casino, is fine by me (simply because adults are responsible for their actions and the implications of their actions), I’m passionate about preventing underage gambling. Hopefully, this article will help readers better understand what underage gambling is about & how unhealthy it ultimately is to adolescents & children.