Gambling with our kids’ futures


There are dangers we anticipate ahead of our children in their journey in life. Roadblocks like illness, or bullying, diversions like getting in with the wrong crowd. Behavioural issues, problems at school, and when they’re a bit older, inadvisable experimenting with drink and drugs.

Many of these dangers are amplified by the internet, with cyber-bullying, grooming and other issues well noted by parents and authorities.

Something that had slipped below the radar, though, was the enormous proliferation of online gambling among children, aged 11-16.

You read that right.

Shocking figures released in the UK this week reveal that there are up to 25,000 children with gambling addictions. Kids as young as 11 are problem gamblers, learning to bet through online apps and social media, and the regulations are woefully inadequate to protect them. Established bookies have their own apps now but they are joined by a proliferation of gambling and gaming apps with the purpose of parting a user from their money in a short space of time and making them come back for more. 11% of kids are ‘skins gaming’; this involves the use of virtual goods, which are most commonly cosmetic elements such as ‘skins’ which have no direct influence on gameplay, as virtual currency to bet on the outcome of professional matches or on other games of chance).

12% of children in England, Scotland and Wales had gambled online in the past week, according to the survey, with an average spend of £10 per week. That doesn’t sound like much until you remember that they are children. £28 was the average weekly income among the same children from pocket money or a part-time job.

The most recent figures on problem gambling in Ireland are from GambleAware.ie, an industry body similar to DrinkAware, set up by companies that make money from gambling.
Their website, which hasn’t been updated since 2011, leads with the line “The overwhelming majority of people who gamble don’t have a problem with it, in fact for the majority of those who do bet, gambling is an entertaining form of recreation.” Indeed.

In 2010, the Institute of Public Health here estimated that adolescents gambled 2-3 times as much as adults, with up to 28,000 people experiencing a gambling problem.
In 2010, however, apps were in their infancy, online bingo wasn’t popular and Facebook games involving gambling hadn’t emerged. Our children live in a completely different universe online to ours, and the gap is widening daily. And while the authorities in the UK say their legislation is woefully inadequate, ours is laughably so.

The Gambling Control Bill was published in 2013. Like many others, it’s caught in the logjam of an ineffective government. Further research has been commissioned in order to modernise the bill, and it was debated in the Dáil in October.
As ever, though, the law can only do so much. And as with all the other dangers the internet amplifies and distorts, this one is going to be left on the parents’ hands to deal with. But where do you even start?

A recreational level of gambling – doing the Lotto once a week, say – is familiar in most homes. Problem gambling is a feature in many more. Our kids learn by example, but when their brains are already being wired by social media giants like Facebook to react to a dopamine hit created by ‘likes’ and continually hitting refresh to get another one, it’s just a brief step from there for the gambling giants to suck them in completely.

The Gambling Control Bill will be a start, but the government needs to do more than that. It needs some Irish research to find out who exactly is gambling, how, and when and with what money. And it needs to ensure that the online casinos that are wreaking havoc elsewhere don’t get within a hair’s breadth of the Irish market. The industry has a part to play here too – maybe they could start with updating their website.

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