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How to talk to children about gambling

A 2017 report by the Gambling Commission found that 25,000 children in Britain are problem gamblers, spending on average £10 a week on the habit.

Jan Willem Poot, a former gambling addict and founder of Yes We Can youth clinics in the Netherlands, spoke to Parent Zone’s Yusuf Tamanna. Here, he offers tips on noticing the signs of gambling addiction in young people and how to talk about it.

 

Jan Willem's experience with gambling

At 12 years old, Jan Willem would skip school to spend his time at local casinos and shops, placing bets on horse racing and football matches using his mother’s money. He said the feeling of euphoria after every win was the perfect way to escape other problems he was facing at the time.

Despite being a minor, most of his gambling took place in public view and not behind a computer screen. ‘The casinos and betting shops saw me as business and didn’t care I was a child,' he says. 'I was making money for them and that’s all that mattered.’ 

It echoes similar cases happening today, where children as young as 11 years old are using their parents' credit card details to make bets on unregulated websites.

From the age of 19 to 27 years old, Jan Willem spent his time in and out of treatment centres. It was only in 2004 that he found a programme that worked for him and began his road to recovery.

Today, Jan Willem is using his past experiences to support young people currently battling addiction. In 2010, he founded Yes We Can youth clinics in the Netherlands where young people can enrol in rehabilitation courses, which include therapy, group discussions, sports activities and time for self-reflection. All forms of social media are banned and one parental visit is allowed after a month.

Jan Willem outlines the typical patterns of behaviour for people addicted to gambling.

‘Video games are now focused on the buying and selling of fancy new avatars and skins,' says Jan Willem. 'Some children can become obsessed and addicted to having the best and being the best in the hopes it will fill a void they have’. 

From speaking to young people at Yes We Can youth clinics, Jan Willem says many of them come to realise they used gambling to fill a void created by a lack of friends or breakdown in communication with their family. 'If the root causes of these issues are not addressed, then gambling, and other addictive behaviours, can continue,' he says.

Jan Willem's 5 tips to talk gambling

  • Highlight the risks. Exciting advertisements and the promise of money can be attractive, but people can develop unhealthy habits and lose large sums of money if their gambling gets out of hand.
  • Lead by example. Purchasing lottery tickets or scratch cards can normalise gambling in the eyes of young people. It's worth considering how your own behaviour towards gambling can impact their perception of it.
  • Communication is key. Ask questions about what young people are doing when they’re on their computer and learn about their online lives. The majority of young people I talk to say that a lack of communication is what allowed their gambling habit to go unnoticed.
  • Create a safe space. Young people are more likely to ask you questions about gambling if they know they won't be judged.
  • Reassure them. Remind them there are support networks and organisations designed to help if they are worried about developing a gambling habit.

Gambling, gaming and legislation

Online gambling through the use of skins continues to prove difficult for regulators to tackle. Even though there has been a rise of loot boxes, in-game treasure chests full of 'loot', in video games such as Star Wars Battlefront 2, the UK Gambling Commission says it doesn’t consider loot boxes as gambling under current British law. But it has warned that the line between gambling and gaming is becoming increasingly blurred and parents should remain vigilant.

Jan Willem believes that the best way to tackle the issue is through a grass roots approach. 'In the same way people are concerned about young people taking drugs or drinking, the same reaction [from society] is needed when young people are gambling online, especially as they are the ones affected by it the most'.

Further reading:

What is skin gambling?

What are loot boxes?

Is my child addicted to online gaming?

Online gambling glossary.