You are here

UK Gambling Commission Report: 5% Youth Online Gambling Rate

Flag Map of the UK

The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) has released a report detailing the participation of minors in gambling activities. The “Young People & Gambling 2018” report was published on Nov. 21, 2018 and contains statistics pertaining to levels of gambling among those aged 11 through 16.

Report Background

Blue Informative Button

The data used in the report came from surveys completed by 2,865 young people in England, Scotland, and Wales between February and July 2018. They filled out the surveys in classroom settings either on paper or through an online system.

Similar studies have been conducted in the United Kingdom annually since 2011 although there are slight changes in the questions asked and the demographics of the populations sampled from year to year. Notably, 2017 was the first year for which students in Scotland were included, and it was also the first in which 16-year-olds were counted as opposed to previous years, which only studied 11- to 15-year-olds.

UKGC's Report on “Young People & Gambling”

Overall Gambling Participation Among Respondents

Clipboard and Paper

The researchers found that among those who completed the survey, 14% of them had gambled using their own money in the past week. This is higher than the 12% who had done so in 2017, but it's lower than the figures reported for any previous year of the study with the high-water mark having been set at 23% in 2011.

More boys gambled than girls: 18% vs. 9%. The incidence of gambling increased as the children got older with only 4% of 11-year-olds reporting having gambled during the past seven days while 22% of 16-year-olds did.

When we look at an entire year rather than just seven days, the proportion of youngsters who had gambled jumps to 39%.

Various Forms of Gambling

Dice and Cards

Breaking down the total of 14% of young adults who gambled during the seven days prior to taking the survey, we see that betting amongst peers accounts for a large share of it. 6% of the individuals studied reported making private bets with friends while 3% engaged in real money card games with friends. Once we exclude these activities and focus instead on what's normally considered “commercial” gambling, we find that no more than 12% of respondents had gambled during the weekly timeframe.

Gambling Participation Rates for Various ActivitiesTypes of Gambling Most Frequent Among U.K. Youths
Chart From “Young People & Gambling 2018,” Published by the UKGC

It's important to note that the sum of the percentages of persons engaging in various types of gaming adds up to more than the 14% overall who gambled during the seven days under consideration. This is because some of them participated in more than one variety of gambling.

National Lottery scratchcards were consumed by 4% of respondents while slot machines at arcades, pubs, and clubs accounted for 3%. Different other types of gambling, like bingo and casinos, were each reported as having occurred during the past week by 2% or less of the participants.

Interestingly, figures for the National Lottery include 16-year-olds who are legally permitted to play. If we're worried about illicit or legally disallowed forms of wagering, then the 12% figure drops even further.

Moving to from the weekly to annual time window, where 39% answered “yes” to this part of the questionnaire, we see again that small-time gambling among friends is a leading hobby with 16% privately betting and 11% playing card games for money. The National Lottery and slot machines were the most popular amusements among other gambling activities with 17% heading to the slot machines and 12% playing National Lottery games. Bingo was also played by more than 10% of respondents during the yearly period. Again, the figures for the National Lottery do not exclude 16-year-olds who are allowed to buy tickets according to the law.

Quick Cash ScratchcardsRegulators Would Perhaps Do Well to Concern Themselves With the Popularity of Scratchcards

What About Online Gambling?

Money Moving Around the World via Computer

As the UKGC's report states, “The survey results continue to demonstrate that among 11-16 year olds, rates of online gambling remain relatively low compared to in-person gambling.” Indeed, only 1% of the students had bet their own money online in the past week, and the corresponding figure for the past 12 months was just 5%.

As far as allegations that internet gambling is a kind of “gateway vice” that leads to all manner of reckless gambling in the future, the report seems to put this bugbear to rest. Of the survey takers who stated that they had gambled before, only 2% identified gambling websites or apps as their first introduction to the dark arts of real money wagering. By contrast, slot machines were listed by 24% as their first initiation to this tempting sin. Private betting with friends came in second at 15% and bingo in third with 13%.

Child in Front of Slot MachinesMany More Juveniles Joined the Ranks of Gamblers Through Slot Machines Than Online

Despite the fact that real money online poker, casino, and sports betting sites appear to be just an afterthought among the young British public as a whole, the UKGC has not been shy about pushing for higher taxes and stronger regulation of the remote gaming sector. The entire matter becomes confusing when we reflect on the fact that one of the stated purposes of these increasingly stringent gambling oversight measures is to protect young consumers. It's safeguarding the indifferent from the effects of the non-threatening.

Problem Gaming

Exclamation Mark With Red Circle

One part of the questionnaire used items from the DSM-IV-MR-J framework, which is intended to “identify adolescent problem gambling.” After collating all responses and tabulating the statistics, the study's authors concluded that 2.2% of respondents were at-risk gamblers and 1.7% were problem gamblers.

This represented a substantial increase from the 2017 numbers of 1.3% and 0.9% respectively. However, as the report scrupulously notes: “The differences in the problem gambling rates in 2018 can largely be attributed to a greater number of respondents qualifying for the screening questions than in previous years.” Thus, this data must be taken with a grain of salt due to the technical and statistical limitations of the survey.

If we credit the 2017 numbers – the latest truly reliable data available – as being an accurate reflection of gambling addiction among children, the this segment of the population displays similar rates as adults do. In August 2017, the UKGC itself published a report entitled “Gambling behaviour in Great Britain in 2015”, which categorized 3.9% of adults as at-risk gamblers and another 0.8% as problem gamblers.

It's evident that rates of problem gaming are about the same for those under 16 as those above this age, and adults are far more likely to fall into the “at risk” category. Fears about legions of schoolchildren becoming hooked on destructive wagering services, especially those delivered online, appear to be just apoplectic fits on the part of moral crusaders and grandstanding politicians.

Gaming Often a Social Pastime

Three People

The numbers we've just discussed tend to counter concerns about a problem gaming epidemic among youth. Yet, the figure of 39% of youngsters having gambled in the past year is a troubling one. Even discounting the penny-ante card games and football bets between friends that account for much of this gambling, a sizeable fraction of students are wagering real money on games of chance.

A deeper delve into the info presented shows that this is true, but what might not be apparent at first glance is that this gambling is being supervised (and presumably approved-of) by children's elders.

Chart Showing Who Children Were With the Last Time They GambledMost Survey Respondents Gambled in the Presence of Others Rather Than Alone
Chart From “Young People & Gambling 2018,” Published by the UKGC

A full 52% of responses from individuals recalling the last time they had gambled indicated that they were accompanied by their parents or guardians while doing so. 14% were with an older relative. Meanwhile, 22% had gambled in the presence of siblings and 45% with friends.

The image of a lone, troubled youngster, caught up in gambling fever, fruitlessly trying to buck the odds while his money steadily disappears in front of his eyes, is only plausible in the minority of cases (10%) in which a pupil said that they were by themselves when gambling. It seems that the majority of kids who gamble do so socially with others, often under the supervision of parents or other authority figures.

UKGC's Take on the Situation

Logo of the UKGC

After looking at the text of the report, we've concluded that problem gaming among British youth is a minor issue at worst. Unsurprisingly, the Gambling Commission has taken a different view. In a statement on its website, the organization warned:

“The Gambling Commission has said stronger partnerships are needed to protect children following a new report published today. The gambling regulator has called for regulators and businesses across industries to work together…”

The Commission continued further down in the text:

“The report identifies the most common gambling activities that children are engaging in are often outside of the Gambling Commission's direct regulatory control - such as bets between friends, lottery scratch cards purchased by parents and playing of fruit machines in pubs.”

And how, pray tell, does the UKGC foresee a role for itself in minimizing the harm caused by “lottery scratch cards purchased by parents”? And what on earth does the regulatory agency think it can do about “bets between friends”? Perhaps it can do something about “fruit machines in pubs” being played by minors, but this surely is an isolated and specific problem that will have to be tackled with some common sense and proportionality rather than an invitation for more government intrusion into the economy and the lives of citizens.

UKGC's History of Punishing Gambling Firms

Hammer

The United Kingdom Gambling Commission is anything but a hands-off, rubber-stamp watchdog. Rather, it intervenes in the business of its licensees with surprising frequency. Rather than just telling companies to stop doing whatever it was that triggered this negative attention, it appears to enjoy slapping heavy penalties on them.

For instance, during the month of November 2018, the UKGC fined three companies a total of £14 million for social responsibility and anti-money laundering failings. The month before, it had docked Paddy Power Betfair £2.2 million for similar shortcomings.

Logos of Firms Assessed Fines by the UKGCSome of the Corporations That Have Run Afoul of the UKGC

Now, we're sure there are some instances when punitive measures against gambling enterprises are fully warranted. But it seems that the UKGC has developed too much of a liking for heavy-handed enforcement mechanisms over the years. It also frequently calls for tougher new rules, which it probably anticipates many outfits being unable to comply with thus giving it scope for levying further punishments on them. Safeguarding youngsters is often a reason cited for cracking down on perceived misdeeds on the part of gaming providers.

Other governmental agencies have gotten in on this act. The Advertising Standards Authority, for example, has commanded several online casinos to stop showing fairy tale-inspired graphics because they allegedly promote underage gambling. The Competition & Markets Authority has interfered in business arrangements between online gaming corporations, like when it temporarily halted the merger between Sky Betting & Gaming and The Stars Group.

Unlicensed Gaming Incentivized

Dollar Bill and a Couple of Coins

Rather than attempting to keep abreast of the latest diktats coming from the UKGC, quite a few internet gaming companies have elected to trade in the British market without obtaining the proper licensure. They can thereby avoid taxes and, more importantly, having to struggle under the demands of power-hungry bureaucracies. There's virtually nothing the government can do about them because they're housed in offshore locations.

One of these unlicensed online sites is Sportsbetting.ag. We play here ourselves, and we find it an honest and upstanding operator notwithstanding its lack of proper UK licensure. New poker players get a 100% up to $1,000 deposit bonus, and there are plenty of promotions in the casino, sportsbook, and other gambling products as well. Read our Sportsbetting Poker review to find out more about it.