The discussion around gambling addiction is often centred on adults. Age restrictions do not, however, adequately protect children and young people from the dangers of gambling. The Gambling Commission’s 2022 annual report1 suggests that most of the gambling that children (aged 11 to 16) engage with is legal or not age restricted, excluding it from the commission’s direct regulatory control. In the past year, 31% of children have spent their own money gambling, 15% made bets with friends or family, and 22% played arcade games (such as claw grab or penny pusher machines). Furthermore, 0.9% of children are classed as problem gamblers2 and 2.4% are at-risk gamblers; this means that one child in every classroom of 30 in the UK is a problem or at-risk gambler. While it is recommended that gambling is covered in school curriculums, only 21% of children have discussed gambling with a teacher,3 suggesting a need for better education.
As Metcalfe4 says, styles of gambling are changing, with 93% of children now playing games online. Regulations are failing to adapt adequately, particularly with regard to “loot boxes.” Loot boxes “allow players to spend real money to unlock unknown virtual rewards.”5 The odds of receiving a desired reward is often low—for example, the odds of unlocking a FIFA Gold 84+ player is 4.2%5—leading children to chase losses.
The Gambling Act 2005 does not cover loot boxes as prize money cannot be converted into real world money.6 The government has chosen not to extend the act to cover loot boxes,7 despite lobbying and other European countries making them illegal.8
If this problem is not tackled soon, we risk allowing future generations of young adults to struggle with gambling addictions and its associated comorbidities, including substance misuse and mood disorders.9