Operators, regulators and technology companies have been urged to act after a study found that nearly half of worldwide social media users who engage with esports betting posts on Twitter are under the age of 16, while the majority of tweets flout UK advertising rules.
Research firm Demos and the University of Bristol’s Department of Management found that 28% of those who retweet or reply to an esports betting tweet in the UK are under 16 years old – five times the percentage of users who actively engage with posts from “traditional” bookmakers.
When worldwide engagement is taken into account the figure rises to 45% of respondents being under the age of 16.
The analysis also showed that 74% of esports tweets and 68% of traditional sports tweets “appeared not to comply with advertising regulations in some way”. Examples given by the researchers included presenting gambling as an income source, encouraging gambling at unsociable times and, especially, showing a person under the age of 25 in a gambling advertisement.
“As most professional esports players are in this age bracket the rules are flouted again and again,” a report summary stated.
The study made a series of recommendations, including a call for operators to make better use of age verification tools and advertising technology and for regulators to tighten rules.
The report also urged technology companies and advertisers to work together to make embedding terms and conditions in messaging seamless and recommended the launch of a free, searchable database of gambling advertising on platforms, provided by tech businesses.
There should also be more visible and frequent references to risk and age restrictions within advertising content and further research needs to be carried out into the types of advertising images, features, themes and techniques that are drawing children to esports betting, the study added.
The study, called the ‘Biddable Youth Report’, was published today (20 August) after more than 888,000 betting-related tweets were analysed over a nine-month period last year.
“With the massive growth in the esports industry, unless action is taken, we can only expect this figure to rise as sports and gambling seem to be inextricably linked,” said Agnes Nairn, a professor from the University of Bristol's Department of Management and co-author of the report.
“Our in-depth analysis of the content of gambling advertising Tweets leads us to believe that children’s esports gambling is currently under the radar in two ways: it's online where parents won’t see it and it’s using clever content marketing such as amusing GIFS, memes, pictures and funny stories, designed to appeal to and implicitly influence young people.”
Fellow co-author Josh Smith, a senior researcher at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, added: “We found that high volumes of messages are produced to appeal particularly to children, with thousands of children in the UK following and responding to this content. This report also shows that advertising regulations are being regularly flouted by gambling advertisers online.
“We hope this report serves as a call to action – both to technology companies to make it easier for gambling customers to get a clear picture of what they’re getting into, and to regulators who must continue to ensure that these new actors are compliant with regulation.”
The report claims that the esports betting market is predicted to be worth almost $30bn by 2020, while, according to GambleAware CEO Marc Etches, one in eight 11 to 16-year-olds follow a gambling company on social media.
“This figure, coupled with this new report into esports betting, shows a need for technology companies to strengthen the age verification processes on social media platforms to help protect children and young people from this sort of exposure to gambling content online,” he said.
“It also brings to light the need for clearer and more regular messages about the risks of gambling to be displayed on gambling adverts online.”