The idea of having to leave the house to gamble at a casino, betting shop or pub is severely outdated. As we entered the digital world, gambling operators found ways to move these services online, placing infinite opportunities to gamble at people’s fingertips. So, with the advancement of technology and such opportunities, one would think current regulation and legislation would have evolved to keep up with this, right? Wrong.

If the Committee’s recent report has told us anything, it is that current regulation is not fit for today’s digital world and as such, problem gambling has been increasingly exacerbated, and not just for adults. The report found that a third of a million people in the UK are problem gamblers and that 55,000 of these are children – yep, you read that right.

Children as problem gamblers? What?

Just one child being a problem gambler in the UK would be a shocking statistic, but 55,000? Although age restrictions prevent children from gambling, many of the video games they play have features that are very similar gambling activities and so encourage gambling-related behaviours. A game may not fall under the ‘gambling’ category, but if it encourages these behaviours then surely it should be monitored through regulation and legislation?

One of the biggest culprits are ‘loot boxes’, which are a feature of many video games. As players progress, they can be awarded these boxes, which give them a random chance of gaining special items which can be used in-game or traded with other players in order to obtain even more special items. When not earned through gameplaying, these boxes can be bought with real money. People are therefore encouraged to continue buying these boxes so that they can receive the best rewards to use or trade with. People paying money to have a chance at winning a random reward, where have we heard that before?

Despite their similarity to gambling activities and connection to problem gambling, the use of loot boxes is not regulated under the Gambling Act 2005. This means that young players across the country, and the world, are increasingly exposed to these activities and therefore susceptible to develop the addictive, problem behaviours associated with gambling.

What else did the report find?

The report reviewed the harms associated with gambling for problem gamblers and their close ones alike. Up to two million people are impacted by gambling addictions, with harms including family breakups, loss of employment and loss of a home. However, the most worrying statistic is that an average of one problem gambler takes their own life every day. This statistic is shocking and should act as a wake-up call for action to ensure greater regulation around gambling to reduce its adverse effects as much as possible.

The lack of appropriate regulation and legislation in today’s digital world has made it all too easy for people to become enticed by, engaged in and unfortunately harmed by gambling. Gambling operators have been drawing people in through offers of free bets and allowing them to gamble on just about anything. Just watching a sports match on television will show the scale of the issue, with constant advertisements through sponsorships and advert breaks.

The scale of the gambling problem is huge and lies not only in problem gambling itself but also in the lack of regulation faced by operators and service providers. There are already 55,000 children who are problem gamblers, which means that unless urgent and immediate action is taken, these already shocking statistics will continue to be exacerbated and will increase year on year.

What next?

The report makes over 60 recommendations for addressing this problem, including ending gambling sport sponsorship, testing regimes to ban new games deemed to be addictive and tough controls of bonus offers encouraging engagement. Most of these recommendations do not require legislative change and so can be put into place relatively quickly, but this requires the Government to act fast.

The problem is here and it’s here now. The Gambling Act 2005 needs urgently to be reviewed, updated and probably replaced to be more befitting of today’s digital world. There needs to be increased awareness of what gambling activities and problematic behaviours look like, along with improved support for those suffering from gambling addictions. The sooner we act, the better.

Read the full report here.