Sunday Times investigation claims that gambling firms are targeting children with their game themes
Several UK mainstream publications have picked up a Sunday Times story over the weekend claiming that there are concerns over online gambling firms deliberately targeting children in their game themes and designs.
The Sunday Times reported that it carried out an investigation which found that some of online gambling’s biggest operators were offering games that portray fairy-tale and other characters that appeal to children, but in a manner that avoids contravening Gambling Commission rules.
The investigation also discovered that many games can be played for free without checks on the players’ ages or requiring registration and ID.
Citing examples, the Times names the Moon Princess slot on the Casinoland website; the Jack and the Beanstalk slot on 888 Casino, and the Peter Pan slot on the Paddy Power site.
The Times notes that the Gambling Commission has confirmed that it is reviewing regulations around the issue of minors being lured into online gambling, and has passed to the Advertising Standards Authority a Sunday Times dossier containing over 30 instances which it feels fall into this category.
The newspaper quotes Gambling Commission statistics from November last year that claim that about 450,000 English and Welsh minors have been found to gamble every week, with 6 percent of 11 to 15-year-olds using funds from their parents’ accounts to gamble online.
The report follows a series of negative online gambling stories in recent mainstream press reports, along with calls for tighter regulations on gambling advertising as the industry awaits the release this month of the UK government’s review of land and online gambling.
Critics of the industry have called for a tougher regulatory approach to avoid the creation of a gambling culture among Britain’s youth.
Approached for comment. Labour deputy leader Tom Watson typically had an anti-online gambling opinion to offer, alleging that bookies are “ruthlessly” exploiting the current situation, which must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“The Gambling Commission should act now to extend the current ban on targeting games at children to online products,” Watson said. “Betting companies need to acknowledge the harm they are doing by cynically targeting children online and remove these games, many of which can be played for ‘fun’ and without age verification, from their sites.”
Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the online gambling trade body Remote Gambling Association, denied that the online gambling industry was deliberately targeting young children, and said it was working hard to reduce the problem and would support any review of the Gambling Commission code that introduced regulations prohibiting online gambling games with specific appeal to children.
Hawkswood noted however that there is the risk that game developers may create games designed to appeal to adults which are also attractive to minors.
But, he added, online gambling age verification measures were stringent and effective in barring the majority of minors from gambling online, and where it was discovered that a minor had slipped through the net and managed to register and play, their deposits were immediately returned and their registration cancelled.