An undercover investigation by the UK’s gambling watchdog has found that 98 per cent of betting shops allowed under-18s to place bets.
The legal age for gambling is 18, but 98 out of 100 betting shops visited by the Gambling Commission allowed a 17-year-old to place a bet at the counter.
A senior executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, Andrew Lyman, admitted the investigation results were “embarrassing”.
“We have to take these findings on the chin and admit that for some reason that culture has not been embedded in the industry in the way that it should have been,” he said.
However, critics have been quick to blame a “softly, softly” approach from the Gambling Commission.
The Commission was established as part of the Gambling Act 2005 to regulate the industry when the rules governing it were relaxed.
One of its own mission statements is to “protect children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling”.
However, last year a study produced for the watchdog concluded that problem gambling among the young was an “emerging public health issue”, with one in 20 young people classified as having a gambling problem.
Speaking at the time, Dr Emanuel Moran, specialist adviser on pathological gambling for the Royal College of Psychiatrists blamed the relaxation of the rules.
He said: “The Government is trying to deal with it with a light touch but I very much fear we are going to see a disaster with a rise in the number of gambling addicts.”
The Commission, which has the power to revoke betting shop licences, has now written to all bookmakers reminding them of their responsibility to ensure that young people are prevented from gambling in their shops.
It has also summoned senior industry executives to discuss how they intended to respond to the findings.
But Don Foster MP, the Liberal Democrat’s culture, media and sport spokesman said: “We were told by the Government that reforming gambling laws would help to protect our children, but yet again we have damning evidence that shows that isn’t happening.
“With 98% of betting shops failing this test, you have to ask whether the industry is taking its responsibility to prevent children from gambling seriously.
“The commission’s ‘softly, softly’ approach is extremely worrying – sending out a strongly worded letter to these companies simply isn’t good enough.”
A Commission spokesman defended its response to the findings, saying: “Through these sorts of exercises we are testing the operators to see if the procedures they have in place are working.
“We expect to see significant improvements.”
Commission investigators checked all five of the UK’s major betting operators, which together account for 80 per cent of betting shops.
Responding to the investigation, the Association of British Bookmakers has now said betting shops will have to assign a specific member of staff to check the ages of customers.
Yesterday Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe announced a new voluntary funding arrangement to bring in at least £15 million over the next three years for the research, education and treatment of problem gambling.