One in five school children are gambling illegally and 50,000 are becoming addicted, a new study has revealed.
Researchers at the University of Salford found found that 21 per cent of twelve to 15-year-olds are betting.
Two per cent of children in this age group, amounting to over 50,000 children, are becoming addicted, they said.
The University’s Centre for the Study of Gambling surveyed nearly 9,000 children for the study which was commissioned by the National Lottery.
The news has sparked criticism of the Government’s 2007 decision to relax gambling laws, particularly in the area of advertising.
Experts have blamed television gambling ads which they say are getting vulnerable children hooked.
The study claimed that more than 525,000 youngsters aged between twelve and 15 had gambled in the past week.
And four per cent of underage children claimed to have bought scratch cards.
Last month an undercover investigation by the Gambling Commission found that 98 per cent of betting shops allowed under-18s to place bets illegally .
Earlier this year the Gambling Commission released a report revealing that children could bet on a third of gambling websites.
Gambling addiction expert Dr Emanuel Moran said: “We are in danger of allowing a generation of children to become addicted to gambling.”
A report for the Gambling Commission last year showed that between five and seven per cent of young people are already classified as having gambling problems, while up to 14 per cent are at risk of developing them.
As many as nine in ten young people have experienced gambling at some point in their lives, the report said.