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Trends in children's gambling 2011 - 2017

Heather Wardle, London school of Hygiene & tropical medicine


In Britain, gambling has an ambiguous place in the lives of children. For the most part, children are legally prohibited from taking part in many forms of commercial gambling. Age restrictions range from 16 and over for National Lottery products, including scratchcards, the football pools and society lotteries whereas age restrictions are 18 and over for all other forms of commercial gambling. The exception to this is category D machines, those with stakes and prizes of 10p and £5 (if paid out in money rather than prizes) which anyone of any age is legally allowed to play and, of course, there are no legal restrictions on what happens between friends and families. Facsimile gambling products, for example in the form of games played for virtual currency, are also freely available to children.

Since 2007, advertisements for gambling have been more freely permitted and whilst there are attempts to minimise children’s exposure to gambling advertisements and marketing, evidence suggests this has not been successful (Ofcom, 2013).

Gambling is a public health issue, with an estimated 400,000 adults being problem gamblers (Connolly et al, 2017). It is important to consider the gambling behaviour of children for two main reasons. First, that the children themselves may experience harms from their engagement in gambling and second, to better understand the antecedents of gambling behaviour among the next generation of young adults.

This short briefing paper uses data collected by the Gambling Commission (GC) from 2011 to 2017 (GC, 2017) to explore changes in gambling behaviours of children aged 11-15. These studies, using broadly the same methods, have routinely asked about gambling behaviour in the past week and, since 2014, collected information about gambling problems. In 2008/9 and 2005, bespoke studies of the gambling behaviour among children in school years 8 and 10 were carried out. Comparisons are not made with these earlier studies as there is considerable variance in their methodologies, which can affect results.