Sunday Times claims that gambling operators target minors with online betting games

An investigation by the Sunday Times has found that many online gambling operators are targeting minors by marketing gambling games containing children’s cartoon and storybook characters.

A gambling game at 888

888’s Fluffy Too Mega Jackpot is described as appealing particularly to children. © The Times

The inquiry claims that operators are exploiting a loophole that allows them to sidestep the UK Gambling Commission’s terms and conditions about advertising gambling to minors.

Most of the games come without registration or verification checks for users age and are free, meaning children are able to easily access the games. The Advertising Standards Agency has said it will further investigate the claims made in the report.

In response to the report, the Gambling Commission issued an open letter to the Sunday times, saying:

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.Spokesperson, UK Gambling Commission

Gambling industry disputes the claims

Not everyone believes the claims being made however. Of course, the gambling industry has come out strongly in opposition to the findings of the investigation.

Critics have cited the stringent Know Your Customer (KYC) checks that almost all UK operators enforce, which check the identity of anyone who tries to sign up to their website. The KYC checks prevent anyone under the age of 18 from becoming a member of a gambling site and some have said that this alone would make the claims false.

There are other points that support the argument. Director of the Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, Warwick Bartlett, points out that gambling operators would not advertise to children as it would represent a waste of advertising funds, since children cannot bet. Additionally, Bartlett claims that cartoons are not used to appeal to children, but because computer graphics are cheaper than paying for people to appear in the games. Bartlett stated:

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? Cartoon characters are often used instead of real people because computer graphics are cheaper than paying for overpriced stars.Warwick Bartlett, Director of GBGC

Half a million children a week gamble

Gambling among minors is extremely prevalent in the UK. Last year’s Young People and Gambling report from the UK’s gambling watchdog found that nearly half a million children gamble each week.

While the figures are not brought into question, just where the blame lies is. The gambling industry and operators are quick to deflect the blame, saying more emphasis and responsibility should be placed on parents. While a review of advertising gambling services is underway, the Gambling Commission did state in the report that there was little evidence that showed gambling adverts were influencing children to bet.

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