Gambling with our youth
The rapid growth of eSports gambling and in-game 'skin betting' is finding an audience with a much younger demographic than traditional gambling.
Regular surveys conducted by the UK’s Gambling Commission tell us that over 70% of the adult population participates in some kind of gambling activity, and depending on the criteria used around 1% of the UK population (in the region of 500,000 adults) are considered to have some kind of gambling problem. Gambling Therapy was set up to provide emotional and practical support to anyone affected by problem gambling and my work as Evening Clinical Services Manager offers me the opportunity to work with people from all over the world who contact the service with a range of gambling related issues.
The statistics on problem gambling, in general, reflect the calls that I have taken over the last six months… where there is emotional upheaval, suffering, money difficulties or trauma there is an increased risk of addiction. But betting on the outcome of virtual online games (eSports) is a relatively new way to gamble and is undoubtedly attracting a younger player.
As well as the younger adults that typically play online interactive games (16-24 year olds) in the last week alone I have spoken to a 15 year old and a 13 year old - both struggling with what they had come to realise were gambling problems, and both of whom will be missed by the Gambling Commission statistics.
This early exposure to gambling is obviously extremely concerning. Often young people arrive at our service and assume that we will not understand what it is that they are about to tell us... they have a feeling that they are probably in the wrong place to talk about the problems they are experiencing. They have cleared out bank accounts, appropriated credit cards or pawned family belongings. They explain that they can gamble with virtual items they have acquired in a game, often worth thousands of pounds. The websites they use to place bets (known as 'skin betting') are often unregulated with no links to responsible gambling information. In some cases it has taken years for players to recognise they are even engaged in gambling, let alone to understand that gambling may have become a problem for them.
Even when legally using legitimate websites to gamble - support and information specifically targeted at this technically savvy, video gaming group is hard to find… the resources out there seem to be almost exclusively aimed at an older demographic.
There is an urgent need for more research, support and education in this area. The cost of this will be a tiny fraction of the cost to society if we fail to act.