A worldwide problem that still hits close to home.
Gambling is everywhere. It is on our TVs during football games, on our smartphones and computers, in video games and on our high streets. For adults, this can be a serious issue, particularly if you suffer from addiction, or are at risk of developing a problem – which is the case for more than 2 million people in Britain. As we know and must be vocal about, gambling addiction can lead people to taking their own lives.
It is deeply concerning to learn that 55,000 11- to 16-year-olds are classified as problem gamblers – a number that has quadrupled in the past two years. Added to that, there are another 70,000 11- to 16-year-olds who are considered at risk of developing a problem. Compared to other potentially harmful activities, the rate of gambling in the past week among young people is higher than the rates of drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or taking illegal drugs. This underlines the need to treat gambling in Britain as a serious public health issue.
Children are growing up in a very different world to the one in which their parents did. The Gambling Commission reports that 450,000 11- to 16-year-olds are gambling an average of £16 per week. Significantly, 59% of 11- to 16-year-olds have seen gambling advertisements on social media, compared with 66% on television. More than one in 10 11- to 16-year-olds follow gambling companies on social media, and they are three times more likely to spend money on gambling. Of those who have ever played online gambling-style games, 24% follow gambling companies online.
Watching sports on TV, particularly during football matches, gambling adverts take over. Across stadiums, during ad breaks and even on players’ kit through sponsorships, betting messages are increasingly interwoven with our love of the game. GambleAware has commissioned research into the effect of gambling advertising on young people and we’ll have results back next year. But in the meantime, it must be right to take a precautionary approach to help protect the next generation. Next week, GambleAware will launch a new social media initiative, to bring clubs, leagues and fans into a discussion about how we ensure our passion for football is not overshadowed by gambling.
I hear young people talking about how they bet against their favourite team so as not to be disappointed if they lose a game. A Liverpool fan betting that Manchester United wins. I wonder at how many England fans wanted to beat Croatia to get to the World Cup final but still bet against them. Is this a symptom of a deeper malaise? Surely sport is as much about the disappointments and close-run moments as it is about winning. As a parent, I think it is important to help the next generation of sports fans understand where the balance lies.
However, we all share in the responsibility for preventing the harms that arise from gambling, and especially for protecting our children. Of course, gambling operators must be held to account but so must social media platforms, broadcasters, sports authorities and the media – newspapers included.
Beyond the commercial world, parents also need to talk to their children about the risks of gambling. Teachers should be discussing gambling with their students during PSHE classes. Doctors should be asking patients about their gambling habits. Debt advisers need to explore whether gambling has played a part in clients’ financial difficulties. We all need to be having conversations about gambling so that any potential problem can be spotted sooner rather than later.
Gambling has become a significant public health issue in Britain but it remains hidden for too many of us. Despite gambling addiction being recognised by the World Health Organization as a behavioural disorder, the NHS does not currently fund specialist treatment. We are working with the NHS and others to ensure that appropriate treatment can be more easily available and free at the point of delivery, but there is still some way to go. In the meantime, it is unacceptable that so many young people are struggling with gambling problems, and we need to act now to stop more people suffering the consequences.
Having conversations with family and friends is important. A scratchcard in a 16th birthday card can, for some, be the start of a corrosive, life-long battle. Such gifts should be accompanied by “the talk” that already goes hand in hand with alcohol or smoking. Whatever your viewpoint, shining a light on this health issue must be the right thing to do.
Marc Etches is CEO of GambleAware