The Sunday Times has claimed that gambling operators are using a loophole to target minors, creating games that appeal to children without necessarily breaching The Gambling Commission’s terms and conditions.
The national newspaper’s investigation reported that operators were luring children to gamble with their favourite cartoon and storybook characters in online betting games.
The issue raised from the inquiry concerns the fact that stakes on the aforementioned games range from 1p to £600, and can be played for free without registration or any age verification checks. Some of the companies and games named include Peter Pan on the Paddy Power website, Jack and the Beanstalk on the 888 website and Moon Princess on the Casinoland website.
The industry has continued to deny such allegations, stating they have not deliberately tried to entice minors to use their games. Nonetheless, the Advertising Standards Agency has said it will investigate the claims.
In an open letter to the Editor of The Sunday Times, the Gambling Commission stated: “Protecting children from being harmed or exploited by gambling is a clear priority for the Gambling Commission. Where businesses fail to protect vulnerable people, especially children, we have and will continue to take firm action.”
Some believe gambling companies are to blame for the worrying statistics around underage gambling, with Dominic Lawson from The Daily Mail stating: “Gambling firms targeting children are just as wicked as drug pushers.”
However, others believe the investigation to be a farce, with GBGC Director Warwick Bartlett commenting: “Advertising is expensive, and gambling companies measure the return of every advert that is placed against new accounts vs cost, known in the trade as customer acquisition cost. Why would a gambling company spend millions trying to entice children to gamble when at the point of sale they cannot open an account?
“The company’s KYC would block them, they cannot deposit unless they are 18+ years. This is fake news. Cartoon characters are often used instead of real people because computer graphics are cheaper than paying for overpriced stars. Oh, and by the way they do not only appeal to children, adults like them too.”
Critics of the gambling industry have decided that only children or minors enjoy fictional characters and cartoons, which simply isn’t the case. “On a flight back from Las Vegas I walked down the aisle of the plane and saw thirty percent of adults watching the latest hit cartoon film Despicable Me,” added Bartlett.
The commission has passed on a Sunday Times dossier of over 30 games to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for investigation. According to The Gambling Commission, nearly half a million children have been found to gamble in England and Wales every week, according to The Gambling Commission. Furthermore, in a report released last year in November, 6% of 11 to 15-year-olds have gambled online using funds from their parents’ accounts.
Whilst there is a common view that should these shocking statistics should be blamed on the gambling industry, some would argue there is an issue here with parental negligence.
Industry expert and gambling consultant, Steve Donoughue states: “The fear that we have an epidemic of gambling addicted children lured online by cartoon characters used in online slots is nonsense and The Times should know better.
“Yes we have sites which allow people to play for free without age verification and so logically this could mean children play them. Does this mean the industry is targeting children? No it doesn't. They aren't allowed to gamble and age checks will pick them up if they try and play for money.
“So will they become addicts if they play for free? Probably not because children have been playing gambling style games for centuries and still less than 1% get a problem. But what about the adults that let their kids play using their accounts? That would be a parenting issue, where are the failed politicians making a fuss about that?”