70% of National Gambling Helpline Callers Are Underage

The past 18 months have delivered unprecedented challenges that have affected every facet of our lives. One thing that has been particularly profound has been the way so many areas of both our personal and professional lives have shifted towards cyberspace. It means that while so many industries have struggled, a handful have had their most successful years in history.

Video conferencing platforms and ecommerce sites are two obvious examples. But online gambling activity has also risen exponentially. That’s good news for the bookmakers and casino operators, but naturally enough, it has also provoked concern in some quarters regarding gambling addiction and related problems. 

Protecting the minority

Gamcare is an independent charity that provides support and information to anyone in the UK suffering from gambling-related problems. While addiction only affects a small percentage, it is wise that helpline workers are on hand to help these people, especially given the alarming trend that has manifested itself in recent months. 

During the lockdown, Gamcare says it received 353 calls to its gambling helpline. Given that the online gambling market alone in the UK is estimated at more than two million customers, that’s not an alarming number and it supports our assertion that the vast majority of gamblers enjoy their hobby responsibly and without any problems. 

The concerning part is the source of these calls. Almost 250 of those 353 contacts came from minors. Of these, only 20 percent pertained to concerns that the callers had over some third party, for example a parent suspected of having a gambling addiction problem. All the rest were from youngsters who needed help regarding their own gambling habits.  

Teenage gambling on the rise

Who’d be a parent in 2021? There are already plenty of risks out there concerning teenagers and cyberspace about which both youngsters and their parents are constantly advised to be vigilant. Teenage gambling addiction is a shocking addition to that list of concerns. 

Nevertheless, teenage gambling addiction is a genuine issue, and one that has become more common over the past year. Cyberspace has provided a welcome source of escape over the past year, and the chance to channel your inner James Bond is clearly a tantalising prospect, whatever your age. The problem is that it’s significantly easier for someone of 15 to talk their way into an online casino than it would be for them to get past the reception desk at your local Grosvenor’s.

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How can you tell?

What complicates the matter is that the signs of a gambling problem are not necessarily so obvious. Any parent will know that teenagers can be quiet, sullen and withdrawn for a hundred different reasons, many of which are relatively mundane. 

There are, however, some tell-tale signs, the most obvious of which is financial. Typically, this would involve the child being short of cash or constantly seeking loans or hand-outs. Conversely, you might notice that he or she (but usually he) is unaccountably flush. 

Other signs include changes in sleeping patterns, irritability, withdrawal from friends and other hobbies and deteriorating school marks. 

What’s the Big Deal?

Gamcare is a strong advocate of education over excessive regulation when it comes to dealing with gambling problems. Yes, of course casinos and bookmakers have a duty of care to take reasonable measures to keep underage gamblers off their platforms. But the harder something is to access, the more alluring it can seem to enterprising teens.

Delivering a message to teens on safe gambling that truly gets through to them is evidently a strategy that will lead to more success. That’s what lies behind Gamcare’s new BigDeal website. BigDeal provides a place teenager can go online to discuss their concerns about gambling and to gather information. It also provides a wealth of useful information for parents.

As well as the website, Gamcare has released a BigDeal video that gets straight down to business in lifting the lid on problem gambling, featuring YouTuber and occasional boxer Viddal Riley along with respected neuroscientist Dr Jack Lewis. 

The video makes for compelling viewing, and you definitely don’t need to have a gambling problem to benefit from the insights on how our minds react to certain stimuli. Having said that, Gamcare suggests that BigDeal is only a drop in the ocean for talking teenage gambling problems effectively. The organization suggests that gambling awareness is something that should be taught in secondary schools along with various other potentially harmful social habits like drinking and smoking.

Ultimately, it’s important we remember that gambling is as old as the hills, it is just the way we do it that alters. Gambling is not going away, so it makes sense to arm youngsters to gamble responsibly – and for that education to get underway at as young an age as possible. 

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