Thousands of children in gambling epidemic

All in: In the past year, 39% of those aged 11-16 have spent their own money on gambling.

How should we tackle the problem? The number of children with a gambling problem is surging, with thousands at risk. Advertising, social media, and even video games have been blamed.

“I got an email from a betting website. I was only 12 or 13, so I wasn't interested,” says school student Catherine. “But for someone who got that email, being contacted personally, it could almost entice them to gamble, like it’s their duty.”

According to a report released yesterday, thousands of teenagers fall into this trap every day.

Statistics show that 55,000 children are problem gamblers, a 120% increase from 2017. A further 70,000 children are at risk of becoming hooked. Private bets, slot machines, and scratchcards are the most common activities, alongside online betting.

“If you get addicted to gambling when you are at school and you don’t have much life experience before that, it’s very difficult to recover,” says former addict Matt Zarb-Cousin. “The fact that problem gambling in children appears to be increasing exponentially should send alarm bells.”

Lord Chadlington, former chairman of Action on Addiction, said that Britain is “on the brink of a gambling epidemic”.

In the past year, 39% of 11-16-year-olds have spent their own money on gambling. Around 14% gambled in the week they were surveyed, spending an average of £16. In total, 450,000 children bet regularly: more than those who have tried drugs, smoke or drink alcohol.

But why are so many young people gambling?

Some blame advertising. Around 66% of children report seeing gambling adverts on television.

During the World Cup, broadcasters were criticised for “bombarding” teenagers with betting ads, as Zarb-Cousin laments: “A generation of young people think gambling is part of watching sport.”

Social media is also a factor, where 59% of children have seen adverts. One in seven boys actively follow betting brands.

Then there is video games — specifically a controversial feature called “loot boxes”. This is when players spend money on the chance to win random rewards, like power-ups, weapons and rare characters. The feature has been condemned as a “predatory” technique to make money from young gamers.

How can we stop Britain’s teenage gambling epidemic?


Crack down on the betting companies, some argue. There are practical steps we can take right now. Exploitative video game “loot boxes” should be banned; gambling adverts banished from pre-watershed TV; and any pub or bookmaker that allows teens to gamble must face harsh penalties. Strong action will work.

Focus on education, others respond. Equipping teenagers to make good decisions in the long-term is a more sustainable. Otherwise, it is just as likely that gambling problems will arise when teenagers enter adulthood. This means robust education on the dangers of gambling: at school and in the home.

You Decide

  1. Is gambling morally wrong?
  2. Should betting adverts be banned?


  1. Gambling takes many forms, from betting on video games to playing cards. In pairs or small groups, write down as many different types of gambling as you can think of. Share your ideas with the class. Are all these activities bad? Why/Why not?
  2. Browse through the Gambling Commission report in Become an Expert. This is the study on which this news story is based. Pick one statistic that you find the most interesting or surprising. Write one paragraph explaining why this statistic is so interesting, and what it suggests about young people and gambling.

Some People Say...

“Gambling: The sure way of getting nothing for something.”

Wilson Mizner

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The total breakdown of gambling rates among those aged 11-16 is as follows: 1.7% are problem gamblers; 2.2% are at-risk gamblers; 32.5% are non-problem gamblers; and 63.6% do not gamble at all. Boys are twice as likely as girls to have gambled for money in the past week.
What do we not know?
We do not know the precise impact that parenting has on child gambling habits. The report states that 26% of children have seen their parents gamble, and 60% believe their parents would not like them to gamble at all. However, only 19% said that their parents set strict rules against it.

Word Watch

By the Gambling Commission. Read it for yourself by following the link in Become and Expert. It is full of useful statistics and graphs.
Problem gamblers
Someone who is unable to resist their impulse to gamble. This can lead to severe personal and social consequences, putting stress on relationships, work and finances.
When a figure grows rapidly over a short space of time.
According to the report, 13% of people aged 11-16 have drunk alcohol, 4% have smoked cigarettes and 2% have taken illegal drugs.
In total, World Cup viewers in Britain were exposed to almost 90 minutes of gambling adverts during the tournament. Approximately 17% of breaks were devoted to betting ads — the most of any type of advert.
Before 9pm.
Research by the Gambling Commission found that only 10% of pubs intervene to stop under 18’s gambling on their premises.

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