Online Gambling Harms

“I really wish there had been a warning that gambling was addictive” – Hannah. These are the words of a young woman who became addicted to online gambling. What started out as ‘fun’ online pastime for Hannah quickly spiralled out of control and into an addiction that left her anxious, depressed and in debt.

It may be hard to believe but children as young as 12 and 13 are receiving treatment for Gambling Addiction in the UK. The Health Service in the UK have opened and continue to open gambling clinics aimed at treating 13 – 25 year olds following a record number of referrals for treatment.

Whilst there are no figures available for child gambling in Ireland a 2021 study of gambling trends in Ireland reported a significant increase in gambling across all age groups with the biggest increase seen in young people, particularly males, including young people under 18.

Online and TV advertising coupled with easy access to gambling is driving this increase.

The gambling industry spends millions advertising their products. They do this because the advertising works. Young people are subjected to an onslaught of gambling advertisements on TV, online and social media for both sports based gambling and casino gambling. All that’s needed for them to take part is a smartphone and an internet connection. Nowadays the ‘bookies’ is available in your pocket 24 hours a day.

Research has shown that children who are introduced to and begin gambling as a young teenage are four times more likely to develop a gambling problem.

Young people are introduced to gambling in ways we may not be unaware of, for example, through the purchasing of ‘loot’ boxes in video games. Children experience the same emotions that a gambler does when purchasing the loot boxes – the anticipation of the purchase, the highs or lows that follow depending on what’s in the box and the desire to spend more and more to get what they want, the cycle continues. There is no skill involved and the outcome is random, similar, in ways, to scratch cards or casino spins. There are published studies that show a link between loot box spending and problem gambling.

Social media platforms including Facebook provide casino style games such as virtual slot machines and poker games. Because the money involved is virtual there are no age restrictions so children of any age can play and learn the rules and habits of gambling. These games will provide more ‘wins’ than real life casino games and are widely considered to be a gateway to real money gambling.

It’s impossible to prevent young people from being exposed to the world of gambling but we can educate them on what gambling is and the harms associated with problem gambling. Have a look at our top tips and start a conversation at home about the world of gambling and its potential harms. Once you start the conversation you can let your children know that gambling is addictive and carries the same risks to a person’s wellbeing as a drug and alcohol addiction does. The gambling industry exists because it makes money, not the gambler.

This article was contributed by a member of Parenting Limerick.