Young people and gambling in changing times: implications, risks and harms?

Caroline NorrieStephanie BramleyResearchers Caroline Norrie (right) and Stephanie Bramley from the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at the Policy Institute at King’s College London attended the 5th annual Harm-Minimisation Conference on Wednesday 6 December and Thursday 7 December 2017. (1,233 words)

GambleAware, the charity funded by gambling operators to fund treatment services, education and research to help minimise gambling-related harm in Great Britain, held its annual conference at The King’s Fund, London in December. This was a jam-packed two days of speakers and this year the focus was on two issues: 1) gambling and the implications for young people, and 2) gambling and sport. In this blog post we focus on the first subject, but a summary of content relating to gambling and sport is in GambleAware’s own conference report.

Tim Miller, Executive Director of the Gambling Commission, opened the conference with the words ‘Problem gambling is a public health concern’ arguing that problem gambling and the harm which can arise from gambling need proper understanding, attention and resourcing in order to reduce and prevent them. Tim then introduced the conference theme by outlining the changing risks to children from online gambling. Whereas in the past children could be banned from betting locations, online gambling opportunities create new risks and therefore the regulator is currently assessing existing controls (e.g. age verification), and strengthening and adapting them where necessary to meet the changing threats that young people face. With reference to the wider political agenda, Tim Miller reiterated that a new statutory industry levy could be introduced and his view that it would be a ‘fair and credible way of addressing some of the weaknesses that result from the current voluntary arrangements’. Tim also emphasised the importance of researchers helping the regulator to understand gambling-related harm, costs to society and to help evaluate interventions.

Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Tracey Crouch MP followed this by stating that the industry was in the ‘last chance saloon’ and if operators did not contribute 0.1% of their annual profits voluntarily to GambleAware the government would make this a statutory obligation. She also discussed a recent agreement by operators and broadcasters to fund a £5-£7 million public health responsible gambling campaign. She then highlighted the launch of GAMSTOP, a new online self-exclusion scheme which will enable an individual to ban themselves from all online gambling in a single step, which is scheduled to commence in Spring 2018.

Next, gambling researcher, Professor Heather Wardle delivered a powerful presentation on Technological change and the health and wellbeing of youth: a case study of gambling. This talk situated children’s gambling within a historical context to shed light on attitudes today. In Victorian times gambling was viewed contradictorily as both morally unsound and as part of family life. As gambling has been increasingly liberalised, especially during the last 10 years, attitudes have changed. Within the 2005 Gambling Act, children are framed as being one of many groups in need of protection. But Heather pointed out that it is also an issue of exploitation as children have not got the mathematical skills to take part fairly.

Given that recent Gambling Commission statistics showed that 12% of 11-16 year olds gambled in the past week, what is the proportional response? And what are the future implications of children’s current gambling habits? Heather discussed Tweng’s new book which argues that young people growing-up in the age of the smartphone may be slower to mature, less independent, less social in physical environments, more tolerant yet more insecure. Heather argued that this generation’s social lives have moved online and although they may generally be more risk adverse, this does not hold for gambling, as it is the most prevalent risk-taking behaviour. The implications of gambling’s changing role in young people’s lives, evolving youth culture and behaviours, and technology changes are not yet known, but there is evidence that children and young people are exposed to and some engage with gambling. Therefore, there is much research to do in this area.

The effect of internet gambling on young people was debated by a selection of presenters. Prof. Sally Gainsbury from The University of Sydney gave a presentation titled Access, awareness, and appeal: How the Internet is changing young people’s engagement with gambling which focused on outlining how young people’s and their parents’ online behaviour may inadvertently increase children and young people’s awareness of gambling brands and/or products. Sally argued that gambling was not currently on teachers’ agendas, but children should be taught the skills which enable them to critically analyse content which they view online.

Prof. Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University outlined the international research about internet gambling in adolescence. Vicki Shotbolt from Parent Zone discussed implications of technology on family cohesiveness. She referred to the normalisation of internet gambling within families and thought that parents were the frontline defence in terms of the prevention of gambling-related harm, although gambling was not currently on a lot of parents’ radars. She called for greater discussions about gambling, skin betting and loot boxes with parents together with education for children about money and budgeting and for gambling awareness to be introduced into the National Curriculum.

The panel discussion with Prof. Sally Gainsbury, Helen Garrett (Gambling Commission), Prof. Mark Griffiths, Kieran Packer (young person who has experienced gambling-related harm), Vicki Shotbolt and Professor Gill Valentine (University of Sheffield) discussed the somewhat grey area about the rules and boundaries associated with gambling and gaming.

The next presentation was from Luc Delany of Delany and Co., who highlighted the convergence between gaming and gambling. Delany and Co. have launched the International Social Games Association—the global representative body for the social games industry. He noted that some apps and games which children can play mimic the mechanics of casino games.

Where and when does gaming become gambling was the next question addressed by Justyn Larcombe from gambling support charity EPIC Risk Management. The culture of gambling he sees developing in schools joins together with the normalisation of gambling advertising. He stated it was wrong to use lack of evidence as an excuse not to tackle this situation. He too called for compulsory education in schools and colleges about money management.

The next presentation was from Dr Mark R. Johnson from the University of Alberta. He discussed his research into social games. The following panel discussion with Dr Brett Abarbanel (University of Nevada), Sally Gainsbury, Simon Thomas (The Hippodrome Casino), Tim Miller, Vic Hood (Video Game Journalist) and Joe Humm (Young gamer) further discussed the convergence between gaming and gambling. Concerns were raised about the potential for gaming and gambling industries to be creating a generation of children that is understanding and demonstrating gambling-style behaviours without being exposed to responsible gambling messages.

The final presentation of day one was given by Dr Brett Abarbanel from the University of Nevada. This presentation focused on Esports. Another panel discussion followed which further considered loot boxes and skin betting.

This year’s conference was thought-provoking and enlightening; it was punctuated with personal stories of gambling-related harm which provided a real insight into how gambling-related harm can affect young people, vulnerable people and professional sportspeople. We look forward to 2018’s conferences and undertaking our own study of Gambling and Migrants with Prof Heather Wardle and developing Guidelines for Social Workers on working with Adults who have Gambling-related problems.

Caroline Norrie is Research Fellow and Stephanie Bramley is Research Associate at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s College London.