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Children’s online spaces are “saturated” with betting promotions and gambling-like content despite restrictions on ad campaigns targeting young people, according to a new study commissioned by GambleAware.

GambleAware said researchers found that children do not understand the risks of online gambling because of the “blurred line” between gambling and gambling-like activity such as loot boxes.

In response to the study, the gambling harm prevention charity has called for more regulation of gambling advertising online and in public spaces to protect children.

UK advertising rules prohibit gambling firms from using promotions targeted at children or likely to be of strong appeal to children or young people.

A part of everyday life

The report, based on interviews with children and young people aged between seven and 25 in the UK, found that gambling was understood to be a normal part of everyday life, with children describing it as a part of their experience of growing up.

Children observed gambling content in activities such as horse racing, scratch cards, and the National Lottery, while they encountered content resembling gambling in online games featuring gambling-like features such as loot boxes.

“The bright, loud and eye-catching nature of gambling adverts drew children and young people in, and many reported that gambling could look like gaming and vice versa, and the look and feel of the two worlds felt interchangeable,” GambleAware said.

The study quoted one boy aged 15-16 who said about gambling advertising: “They make it look like a game; it does not look like gambling.”

Many of the children and young people who took part in the research said they would like more education on gambling harm in schools.

Previous GambleAware-funded research has shown that 96% of 11-14 year olds in the UK had awareness of gambling marketing, but only 38% were aware of any health information or warnings on gambling adverts.

Early exposure

The report also stated that most children had already participated in some form of occasional gambling activity, often led by a parent or family member.

For example, children reported that adults around them had put money in fruit machines, placed bets on sporting events on their behalf or bought them lottery tickets.

GambleAware highlighted that this early exposure to gambling could be damaging in the long term. Previous research found that 13–25 year olds who had the greatest exposure to gambling were 2.3 times more likely to experience problem gambling in their lifetime.

“This research shows that gambling content is now part of many children’s lives. This is worrying as early exposure to gambling can normalise gambling for children at a young age, and lead to problems,” said GambleAware CEO Zoë Osmond (pictured).

“We need to see more restrictions put on gambling advertising and content to ensure it is not appearing in places where children can see it.

“Urgent action is needed to protect children because they can be seriously affected by gambling harm, as a result of someone else’s gambling or their own participation.”

Nicki Karet, managing director of Sherbert Research, highlighted the confusion surrounding the boundary between online gambling and gaming, particularly among younger children.

“This grey area is further confusing because gambling advertising, particularly online, often uses visuals and tonal expressions that can be seen to directly target children, such as cartoon graphics, bright colours and sounds,” Karet added.

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