Thinking of the Children: Where to from Here?By Luke Haward, CDC Gaming ReportsDecember 5, 2018 at 2:45 amThe UK Gambling Commission recently released their annual edition of their publication “Young People & Gambling”. The report has a number of key findings which might give us pause for thought. Perhaps most important, while 1.7% of children aged 11-16 were found to already be problem gamblers, and 2.2% to be at risk of becoming so, an incredible 32.5% were found to be gamblers, at least technically within the bounds of the study – they had gambled in some form this past year.Children being influenced by gambling ads is quite rightly a hot topic right now, hot enough to scald, and has led to quite some movement within the gambling industry itself. This has been accompanied by a looming sense of probable further incoming regulations, at least for TV advertising, likely to come if the industry doesn’t opt to self-regulate. Under a Labour government they would come regardless, including a total ban on live sports broadcast ads.The ubiquity of gambling ads on the television as well as online is something which surely fuels the fire of underage gambling, as long as our exclusion systems remain imperfect. However, interestingly enough, exclusion of children online seems to be somewhat more successful than exclusion offline. Perhaps that’s because they would essentially have to have access to a credit or debit card to be able to access most of the online gambling options.One could make a very good case that, along with cutting or limiting the times of day for ads, another big step forward would be to tackle what we might term “gateway gambling forms”, these in which underage gamblers are most likely to participate. Interestingly, these are not skins gambling, a big one in the news lately, nor online gambling in general, which clock in at only 3% and 1% of respondents in the GC study, respectively. The bigger ones are betting with friends, at 6%, something which is not regulated or illegal, and then, slightly less commonly, buying scratch-cards in shops, at 4% (with or without a parent looking on or even handing over the cash), or gambling on slot machines or class C fruit machines, which are available in pubs, clubs, and some arcades (where the maximum payout is £100).Another recently published GC study, conducted with the help of the police, found that 90% of pubs surveyed failed to prevent possible underage gambling, or failed to post warnings on class C machines. License holders need to be better informed of the risks, and of their own license conditions, which must be enforced by the relevant local authorities.Education is also badly needed both for children, who have reported being mostly unaware of gambling support services and charities, and for parents. A glaring feature of the GC study concerned parents’ and guardians’ roles in permitting or enabling underage gambling. Only 19% of parents or guardians were found to set clear rules on gambling for their children. There is clearly a need for greater guidance on this matter.It is indeed a complex picture where the risks which accompany online gambling are indeed very real, but where, at least for now, habits and choices in opting to wager money get started frequently in the real (physical) world, with people we know or even with family members, in a shop or a pub. Granted, the services and games available online are only going to grow more complex, varied, and engaging as technology and virtual reality continue to develop. Alongside these changes, which will come apace, the challenges of protecting the young are undoubtedly going to move increasingly into the online space. Still, there’s a lot to be said for addressing the current root causes which are often to be found in our own human, offline interactions, in our backyards and shops.This issue isn’t something just for regulators – its relevance goes to decision-makers in the industry as well, who must clean up their own backyards. What they might be best advised to do, to protect children in 2019, is to sit down and pen some simple resolutions for the New Year, and to enshrine within those goals the strongest possible personal standards for their conduct, advertising strategy, and customer care. After all, corporations are legally people. It’s time they started to hold themselves to the highest possible moral standards, especially in an industry where not only the lives of adults are at real risk, but those of children.