GamCare warns of ‘imminent need’ to address gambling harm among under-18s

GamCare has argued there is an ‘imminent need’ to discuss gambling-related harm among young people, with more than 7 in 10 (71.5%) calls to the National Gambling Helpline from under-18s being from those directly experiencing an issue with gambling.

These calls came from young people struggling with a gambling-related issue personally, as opposed to 20% expressing concern about a friend or family member, and 8.5% who were considered ‘at risk’ of developing harmful betting behaviours.

User data from the charity’s support services found that 77% of young people who gamble use online operators or conduct the activity through esports betting and ‘social gaming’.

The latter form of gambling allows for high spending limits, in-app purchases and skins betting – which involves the buying, selling and exchanging of items with other players – as well as look boxes, which have been routinely highlighted by gambling reform advocates.

“Since lockdown, we’ve not only heard stories from our helpline that reveal young people are increasingly experiencing more parental gambling but there is also rising concern for potential harms to young people who gamble themselves,” said Anna Hemmings, CEO of GamCare.

“It’s been an extremely difficult year for young people, with many using the internet and social media not only to be in touch with friends, but also as a form of escapism. This makes it harder for parents to tell when their child might be displaying unhealthy behaviours, as often the symptoms, such as being withdrawn, can be confused with other issues and challenges teenagers face in this difficult period of their lives.

“That’s why we hope BigDeal will be a resource that speaks to young people in plain terms on the core issues related to gambling, the harms they could encounter, plus how they can get further support from our helpline.”

To raise awareness of gambling related harm among young people, GamCare has initiated the ‘BigDeal’ website – a ‘dedicated hub for young people’ providing information, advice and support to young people struggling with gambling-related harm and their parents, as well as supplying training material to teachers, youth workers and social workers.

To highlight the impact of gambling on a young person’s brain development, the group released a BigDeal video featuring boxer and YouTuber Viddal Riley and neuroscientist Dr Jack Lewis, who discussed the neurological factors which drive gamblng addiction, particularly among the younger demographic.

Dr Lewis explained: “Teenagers are much more vulnerable to developing addictive behaviours due to natural increases in dopamine sensitivity in the reward.”

Riley added: “Young people need more support to be educated on what they can do when gambling can be harmful, knowing when things aren’t OK or being aware of what could happen down the line.

“As a boxer, I know betting is a big part of my sport, and watching a match is often a family moment. And as a YouTuber, I know young people spend a lot of time online and it can easily lead to things getting out of control.”

GamCare’s announcement follows its agreement with the Samaritans last week, in a partnership centred around suicide-prevention and raising awareness of the links between suicidal thoughts and gambling-related harm.

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