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Need Your Online Fix? Part 2: Are Young People at Greater Risk From Gambling Addiction?

28/07/2016 11:33 | Updated 28 July 2016

In a previous article about online addictions I talked about how young people could potentially be the highest risk for the growing problem of online gambling addiction. The ease with which young people can now access online gambling platforms makes it an area of legitimate concern, but do the statistics support this?

Whilst it is estimated that less than 1% of the population actually suffer from a gambling addiction, online gambling is a lot more difficult to monitor and to quantify. At what point does a hobby become a habit, and then a problem, or even an addiction?

The amount of time that young people now spend online make them the ideal market for gambling websites. If you have ever tried to stream video without your pop-up blocker on, you will know how many less scrupulous betting websites use this platform to advertise. Technologically savvy children and teens use these sites daily to watch their favourite films or TV shows.

Although you do need to register with most official gambling sites in order to bet, there is some concern that free gambling via online games is a gateway for young people into problem gambling.

The Freemium Factor

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photo credit: iphone via photopin (license)

'Freemium' games on smart phones and devices allow children and young people to download a casino style game for free, get 'addicted', and then spend more and more money to unlock further levels. Smartphones have been nicknamed by game developers "the world's smallest slot machines,"due to companies purposefully taking advantage of the way our brains use the neurotransmitter Dopamine to produce feelings of reward, and therefore to develop a habit which can eventually lead to addiction.

"According to a recent review of studies on internet gambling activities of young people carried out at Nottingham Trent University, a significant minority of young people gamble online, including online money free gambling, which seems to play an important role in introducing children and young people to the excitement of gambling without the experience of the consequences of losing money.
"Crucially, the British Survey of Children, the National Lottery and Gambling (2008-09) found that online money free gambling is strongly associated with the development of problem gambling."

There has also been concern that the fruit machine style of some of the 'Freemium' games may be a gateway into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOTB) found in betting shops.

This has however been disputed by recent Gambling Commission statistics which suggests that the younger generation is actually more likely to be composed of cautious, sensible gamblers than older generations are.The commission's statistics show that, as of March 2016, 18-to-24 year olds were more than twice as likely to be "low risk" gamblers than any other age group.

So what is the truth? Are we breeding a generation of problem gamblers?

Gambling support organisation, GamCare, received 29% of its calls from the 18-25 age range and 35% from gamblers aged 26 to 35 in 2014-2015,but only 1% of its calls from 16-17 year olds, suggesting that although the seed may be sown at a younger age, gambling doesn't usually become a problem until they have reached a legal age. These statistics do however only show the age at which gamblers choose to seek help.

Another report by the Gambling Commission back in 2008 showed that early exposure to gambling increased the risk of the child developing a gambling problem in later life. The average onset for problem gambling was around 10-11, showing the huge significance early exposure can have.

Despite options for parental restrictions on websites and mobile devices, it cannot be doubted that underage young people are still managing to access gambling sites.

Although the statistics for young people with gambling problems remain low, it could be that unrestricted and seemingly fun, harmless apps on smart phones, and tablets are contributing towards addictions later in life.

The relative newness of this type of 'gateway' into gambling means that it is difficult to prove any link at this stage. With more games and apps being produced by the minute,it is clear that awareness from the gambling industry will be key to regulation, and therefore protection of young people in the future.

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