1 in 2 young people at risk of gambling addiction, study reveals

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Jan 29, 2024

1 in 2 young people at risk of gambling addiction, study reveals

Today at 10 Downing Street, Safer Online Gambling Group will launch a new survey exposing Britain’s hidden epidemic of young people spending millions each year on in-app purchases and video game add-ons

According to the survey, an estimated £270m could be being lost by young people and their families each year thanks to gaming ‘loot boxes’ (digital boxes that give users a random chance of acquiring rare in-game items, currency, perks, or similar), in-app purchases, and DLC. The survey reveals that one in two young people aged 11-18 had used a loot box recently. The average spend on in-game content per person, per year, was estimated at around £500 to £600.

According to the report, one in 10 young people are thought to have accidentally spent money on in-app purchases. An overwhelming 95% are thought to use gaming apps. Outlined in the survey, the rise of advertisements focused on betting aimed at young people on social media and through affiliate platforms inside mobile and tablet based games are also addressed.

The Safer Online Gambling Group (SOGG) was created out of concern around gambling addiction and video games which mimic gambling for children. Created by father and son, David and Adam Bradford, the two have campaigned against Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, calling for tighter regulations for online gambling.

Director of the SOGG, Adam, commented, “It is simply absurd that young people who are not even of legal age to place a bet are being exposed to gambling content and insidious addictive gaming from the age of three. One case study told us that his child had been playing a maths game on his iPad and was then incentivised to level up the game and at the end of each level was rewarded with casino-lookalike chips into a digital wallet.

“The links between gaming and gambling need to be studied carefully and the gambling industry needs to make absolutely sure that its affiliates and marketing agencies are screening out young people from digital adverts so that those who are underage for betting are not exposed to addictive content and enthralling free bet offers before they are even legally allowed to vote.

“Online gambling is a silent killer and we already know as a society how devastating the effects of a gambling addiction can be. Whilst 2 million people in the general population are at risk of developing a gambling addiction, we need to stamp out these underhanded practices from gaming and gambling companies now through introducing age requirements for digital adverts and a complete ban on in-app purchases in games licensed for children, before more families across the country are bankrupted.”

Adam and David are set to hand the research to Boris Johnson later today.

Calls for loot boxes to be banned

Earlier this year, a US senator called for a ban on gaming loot boxes, saying that they are “preying on user addiction” and exploiting children. Previously, Belgium found that loot boxes were in violation of their gambling laws, declaring them illegal. The UK and US have previously ruled that loot boxes are not in contradiction of their gambling regulations, despite growing concerns over the mental health and wellbeing impact on younger users.

Belgium declares loot boxes gambling and therefore illegal from r/news

Calls to regulate loot boxes due to gambling concerns have been ongoing for many years. Legislators have called for the prohibition of the sale of games using loot boxes to those under the age of 18.

Current franchises that are hugely popular with children and teens including Fortnite, Call of Duty, Overwatch, and FIFA all have a high focus on unlocking loot boxes. Fortnite alone has nearly 250m players. While statistics estimate over 60% of players are aged 18-24, no real data has been released on how many younger players currently use what has been called the world’s most popular game.

Controversy around loot boxes has historically caused problems for some developers due to their widely poor reception amongst gamers. In an article published by Forbes earlier this year, one writer called popular gaming publisher EA’s latest ‘loot box shenanigans are absurd’.

Critics of gaming loot boxes are divided. Whilst many parents call for their outright ban, others are calling for better oversight, clearer odds to be shared, and more responsible advertising.

The bigger picture

Loot boxes aren’t the only form of gambling introduced to children from a young age. From collectable trading cards with increasingly lower odds of finding rare cards to random chance collectable ‘blind box’ toys such as the global phenomenon, L.O.L Surprise! toys, even children’s collectible sticker albums can be seen as encouraging gambling behaviours and putting a strain on parents wallets.

Just this month, Sainsbury’s and Disney have released a collaboration of Disney Heroes collectors cards and albums. With 144 cards to collect and just six short weeks for children to complete their collection and ‘unlock the hero in [them]’, parents will receive a single pack of four card for every £10 spent, or can purchase extra cards for 50p per pack (along with the collectors book for £2.50).

It raises the question: if we are looking to regulate digital gaming aimed at children, shouldn’t we be questioning physical products aimed at them too? With a single collectable card game booster pack costing around £3, are the odds of finding rare cards or toys being made clear enough for parents and children?

Seeking help

Gaming disorder and internet addiction have been officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). If you are concerned about your gaming or gambling habits, help is available.

Counsellor Noel Bell shares his advice on overcoming gambling urgers.

“Clinicians differ in how problem gambling is defined. Generally speaking, however, it can be viewed as an activity whereby an individual is unable to resist impulses to gamble, thus leading to serious adverse personal or social consequences. Stopping problem gambling can be extremely difficult, but once stopped, the ongoing task is to stay stopped.

“Counselling and talking therapy can help you to heal any old emotional wounds that are getting in your way. The process of building trust and rapport with a therapist can help to identify specific personal vulnerabilities to relapse, hidden triggers and to devise a plan for the successful maintenance of your recovery.”

Discover more information about compulsive gambling, addictions, and how they affect young people by visiting Counselling Directory. If you are unsure if you or someone you love may have a problem, find out more about how you can recognise gambling problems on Hypnotherapy Directory.

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