It’s the issue that refuses to go away. The UK’s biggest gambling watchdog (the UK Gambling Commission) has published new research results that reveal some troubling statistics in relation to underage minors and gambling. Specifically, the issue is to do with children experiencing gambling in situations in which the risks are not always explained to them.
This has come about due to the issue surrounding free-to-play games which feature elements such as micro-transactions. This is obviously quite a large issue, but is the UKGC simply just being reactionary or should we truly be concerned with these figures?
Because of the recent phenomenon of online gaming, particularly social media, there aren’t as many laws in place that can regulate in-game purchases that cross the line into outright gambling. In the last week, around 11% of 11 to 16-year-olds played free gambling-style social games online, while 11% also used in-game items whilst playing computer or app-based games.
This is clearly the issue the UKGC have a problem with; underage gambling is something that probably cannot be avoided, but the numbers could be much lower if companies took more social responsibility and not dupe minors into spending lots and lots of money on one of their free games. It is theorised that the more one gambles as a child, the more they are likely to develop an addiction when they’re older. So, of course, the more regulations the UKGC can put in place to control this, the better.
In addition to this, 80% of said children saw gambling adverts on TV, while 70% saw ads on social media and 66% on other websites. This means that the advertisement of gambling practises are being viewed by minors and need to be controlled. Tim Miller, executive director of the UKGC, commented, “We require gambling operators to have strong protections in place to prevent children from accessing their products and are actively reviewing how some, like age verification, can continue to be strengthened.”
In other words, children have far too much easy access to gambling and companies need to put stricter measures in place to ensure that said measures don’t cause some serious harm. It might seem difficult — after all, you can’t regulate every site your children go onto — but there does need to be an air of responsibility from companies that make these games as well as from parents to make sure their kids don’t spend money unwisely.
For some, this might not seem to be much of an issue. Or, of it is, it’s a very small one contained to mobile gambling. Those more in the know, however, (particularly those who regularly play video games) this has been a growing problem throughout the world. The UKGC only talks about social gaming, but in big releases for the PS4 and Xbox (such as the new Star Wars Battlefront game) the developers and publishers have been criticised by governments worldwide for their microtransactions.
Because the nature of some of these microtransactions aren’t purely cosmetic (you literally would need to pay money to stand a chance of winning) many gamers and governors view these practises as encouraging gambling. And since most of the people who play video games are under the age of 18, this means underage gambling will only increase. Miller even went on to add in his statement that this is very much the case: “[…] many children’s experiences of gambling-style activities are coming from the playground, the games console or social media rather than the bookmaker, the casino or the gambling website.”