Online gambling companies are under investigation for targeting children and encouraging them to gamble from an early age.
Firms such as 888, Paddy Power, and William Hill are accused of enticing children with cartoons and children’s characters, and have been reported to the Advertising Standards Authority by the Gambling Commission.
Gambling Commission regulations state that casinos and betting shops “must not deliberately provide facilities for gambling in such a way as to appeal particularly to children”, but this rule does not apply online.
This loophole allows operators to create virtual slot machines based on much-loved children’s characters, such as Top Cat, Peter Pan, and The Jungle Book.
Once you’ve got a young person hooked, you’ve got them for life.
A Sunday Times investigation compiled a list of more than 30 such games, with minimum bets starting as low as 1p and maximum stakes at £600, and with real payouts of as much as £500,000. The newspaper then passed its findings on to the Gambling Commission.
Under 18s are not allowed to gamble online, but can easily circumvent this rule by ticking a box to confirm they are over 18, and by supplying credit card details.
Campaigners have warned of the dangers of allowing underage gambling to proliferate online.
Professor Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University, said age verification checks needed to be much more robust.
He added that online gambling was even more damaging than the use of fixed-odds betting terminals – machines already under review by the Government.
He said: “Fixed-odds betting terminals are getting battered, but anyone walking around with a mobile phone in their pocket can access games that are a lot more dangerous in terms of risk to their money.”
Jason Haddigan, a former gambling addict who has written a book on his experiences, said: “The young are getting conned and sucked into thinking gambling is an easy way to make money.”
He added: “A young person can easily claim they are 18 on these sites and can pay by PayPal, a pre-paid card or mobile phone. Once you’ve got a young person hooked, you’ve got them for life.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We have been clear that the industry must do more in terms of social responsibility and this is an issue we are addressing in our ongoing gambling review to be published soon.”