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GambleAware: Children “misled” by bright gambling ads

| By Marese O'Hagan
Research commissioned by GambleAware has found that children are being drawn in by “bright, loud and eye-catching” gambling ads, particularly more vulnerable children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
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Part of this has to do with the “grey area” between gambling and gambling-like gaming, according to the research.

The research aimed to investigate three groups in particular. These were children under the age of 11, children and young people that have been affected by someone else’s gambling habits and children and young people who are considered vulnerable.

The methodology and findings were compiled in a report published on 19 April.

Interviews took place with children from each of the groups. Children from all the subgroups said they had seen gambling ads online. Vulnerable children were able to recall more examples of advertising compared to others.

“The sensory nature of bright, loud and eye-catching gambling adverts and the language drew children in and misled them. Especially those vulnerable children with SEND,” the report reads. “Vulnerable boys had the highest recall of gambling advertising and gambling brands.”

Separating gambling and gaming

The report revealed that some young people have difficulty telling the difference between gambling and gaming with gambling characteristics. It gives the example of the bright cartoons “that look similar to media content that is specifically designed for children”.

The report quotes a boy with vulnerable characteristics who named 888 Casino as an example.

“… they make it look like a game, it does not look like gambling,” he said.

When asked to define gambling, the young people tended to name traditional examples such as the lottery and slot machines. The report noted that this definition does not align with how gambling has evolved to be online.

“The grey area between online gambling and gambling-like gaming is confusing and blurs the lines for children and young people. As well as their parents and caregivers, between what is and is not gambling,” it reads. “This means that the risks associated with more traditional forms of gambling, are not necessarily perceived to exist within online gambling, or gambling-like gaming mechanisms.”

Children’s online spaces “saturated” with gambling ads

Participants also reported that their online spaces could feel saturated with gambling content and advertising. Some revealed that they had been influenced by gambling content promoted by influencers or footballers.

A number of older children in the vulnerable subgroup believed that this content should be regulated. Others said it should be their responsibility to judge the risk.

“Some of these [get rich quick] schemes are actually legitimate… it’s all down to whether you want to take the risk. It’s not necessarily the company’s fault, it’s your fault,” said one boy aged 16-17. Another recommended implementing age verification in these instances, or stop the advertising altogether.

In its concluding recommendations, the report stated that children need gambling education that goes beyond the potential for financial harm.

“Children need more information and conversations about the range of gambling harms that exist – beyond just financial loss,” the report recommended. “There needs to be awareness that gambling, and gambling like behaviours, have evolved in different ways online.”

Deliver education on gambling effectively

However, the concluding remarks noted that gambling education should not constitute fearmongering.

“The risks that can come with gambling need to be communicated in a way that is not alarmist and that also understands that gambling is not necessarily harmful,” it continues. “As we have seen, the current way in which gambling is portrayed in everyday life, in culture and in advertising, is failing to communicate the risks to children.”

Zoë Osmond, CEO of GambleAware, called for more restrictions on gambling ads to ensure they do not reach young people.

“This research shows that gambling content is now part of many children’s lives,” said Osmond. “This is worrying as early exposure to gambling can normalise gambling for children at a young age and lead to problems.

“We need to see more restrictions put on gambling advertising and content to ensure it is not appearing in places where children can see it.”

The report comes after GambleAware revealed that those seeking gambling harm support from the National Gambling Support Network were being offered treatment within three and a half days on average. Also this month, GambleAware announced that its self-assessment tool had been accessed by 100,000 people in the year since its launch.

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