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It’s time to act on underage online gambling

‘It’s a recipe for children to be left alone in spaces that are at best high risk, at worst, likely to cause harm’

Underage online gambling is a growing problem and children and young people need protection. By Parent Zone CEO, Vicki Shotbolt

We say it often because it’s true – the internet amplifies existing problems and gives new form to old ones. One of the clearest examples of this can be found in gambling.  From the surge in popularity of online bingo to the emergence of gambling on eSports, the internet has given new form to an old activity.  What’s troubling to us is that this issue has been slipping under the radar. Not just for the wider online safety community, but for parents and schools as well. 

It’s not hard to understand why. How many of us would think to ask our son or daughter if they were gambling online? 

It’s reasonable for adults to think that it isn’t possible because of all the online industries, gambling has been the one that has done most on age verification. It seems unlikely that children would be able to access the means and opportunities needed to develop a gambling habit.  

But the internet is the bringer of innovation and it has brought us new forms of gambling. Forms that are difficult to understand if you’re not a gamer.  Our intrepid content team has been working hard to get to the bottom of underage online gambling and it is far from easy.  The sites pop up and close down, the currency isn’t currency as we know it, and the lines between gaming and gambling appear to be blurred. 

Does buying a virtual pack of players that might result in finding a valuable player but could result in you getting far less than the face value count as gambling?  Is using virtual currency to gamble still illegal for under 18s (the answer is no to the first but yes to the second.  You can find out why here).

Our investigations highlight a multi-billion pound industry that remains a mystery to most parents. And as with all online risk, parents being unaware of the potential harms their children might encounter is a troubling thing.  It’s a recipe for children to be left alone in spaces that are at best high risk, at worst, likely to cause harm. 

We believe it is time for parents to receive the information they need to understand this new gambling context. It’s also time for stronger measures to be taken to deal with services that are already acting outside the law. 

Parents and schools are routinely asked to deal with challenges that are complex and sometime intangible. They usually respond. But for anyone to start to think about responses to this issue, we need to start by understanding that young people are gambling online and in all our efforts to educate young people about staying safe in the digital world, we have failed to address this issue. It is time we started. 

Image: Bartholomay, public domain