Thursday, 28 June 2018

Children gambling - another moral panic

The Times has got everything it could have wanted from its weirdly obsessive crusade against sugar, and the anti-gambling killjoys have won their victory over the fixed-odds betting terminals. Both are ready for a new target and gambling adverts fit the bill, hence this in The Times today...

More children gamble than go bowling or skateboard

Gambling is now more popular among children than skateboarding as bookmakers bombard young people with adverts in an “uncontrolled social experiment on today's youth” an official report has warned.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board said that nine out of ten young people have seen betting adverts on TV or social media.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board is a quango that advertises another quango, the Gambling Commission. Our old friend Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, sits on its board. Gilmore is a liver specialist who lobbies for temperance policies. What does he know about gambling? Nothing, but puritans have never stayed in their lane.

Some of the rhetoric in the RGSB report will be familiar to anybody who has encountered anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco lobbyists. It claims that advertising leads to the 'normalisation' of gambling. It complains that children of gamblers are more likely to become gamblers themselves. At one point, there is the gratuitous and false claim that the link between alcohol advertising and increased levels of drinking is 'clear-cut' (a footnote cites an article by the fruitcake Gerard Hastings as proof).

The claim that 'nine out of ten young people have seen betting adverts on TV or social media' comes from 'Young People and Gambling' report published last December and is true. The exact figure is 91 per cent. One wonders how 9 per cent of 11-16 year olds have managed to never see an advert for a betting company or the National Lottery.

The claim that more children gamble than go bowling is also (probably) true, but only if you include placing private bets with friends and playing cards with friends for stakes. The Times doesn't define 'children' in its article but it does quote the CEO of GambleAware, saying...

Marc Etches, the chief executive of GambleAware, the addiction charity, said: “We are concerned that 1 in 8 children aged between 11 and 15 years old are gambling regularly..."

The data actually relate to 11-16 year olds, not 11-15 year olds. Marc Etches probably made the mistake because, inexplicably, the RGSB report refers to 11-15 year olds when it should be 11-16 year olds. This is not a trivial error given that 16 year olds are legally allowed to play the lottery and buy scratchcards. All of the forms of gambling that have a participation rate of more than one per cent are legal from the age of 16 and most are legal at any age.

Although 16 year olds are allowed to play the lottery, the vast majority of the children who do so are bought the ticket (or scratchcard) by family or friends. Only five per cent handed over the money themselves, ie. 0.2 per cent of all children.  

The most common form of gambling, albeit with rates of only 3-4 per cent, are fruit machines, private bets and National Lottery scratchcards. Category D fruit machines with 10p stakes can be played by people of any age and are common at the end of the pier and in family entertainment centres. In the survey, two-thirds of the children who played them did so in a family arcade or a holiday park.

However, 26 per cent played them in a pub where the machines are likely to have been for adults. That's one per cent of all children surveyed. The number of children who claimed to have gambled on bingo, in a betting shop or on a website was also one per cent.

While nobody condones children gambling in pubs and bookies, a prevalence figure of one per cent should not take us into moral panic territory, especially since surveys always end up with a few people who answer questions randomly or simply take the piss.

But it should be clear that the overwhelming majority of gambling done by 11-16 year olds is entirely legal. We can have a debate about whether 16 and 17 year olds should be able to play to lottery, or whether penny falls and Category D fruit machines should be accessible by children. The RGSB report expresses concern about both these issues but concludes that 'we do not think the balance of argument at present supports a recommendation that Category D slot machine products should be restricted to adults.' Moreover, there does not seem to a be link to exposure to such gambling early in life and problem gambling later in life.

But that is not what The Times and the anti-gambling campaigners focus on. Instead they complain about the number of betting adverts during World Cup games. These ads are almost entirely for online companies which have effective age-verification systems. The implication of the article is that advertising is driving large numbers of children into a lifelong addiction to online gambling, but the Young People and Gambling survey evidence finds that past-week participation in any form of internet gambling by 11-16 year olds 'is low, at only 1%' and past-year participation is only 3 per cent.

Three per cent is still a lot of kids. However, of those who had ever gambled online, the vast majority used their parents' accounts with their parents' permission and...

By far the most common form of online gambling using a parent or guardian’s account is on National Lottery games.

Of these online lottery players, 88 per cent had received their parents' permission.

There is a big difference between one in eight kids gambling when they should be skateboarding because they are bombarded with online gambling adverts and a minority of 11-16 year olds being given parental permission to buy a lottery ticket or play in the penny arcade.

Finally, recall that the Times article starts off by saying 'Gambling is now more popular among children than skateboarding' with the clear implication that it is on the rise. Let's see, shall we?

Can anybody say 'moral panic'?

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