A new report has been published by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), concerning children and young adults, and their early interactions with gambling. The paper reflects on these formative experiences and the effects that they may have later in life.
The UKGC commissioned research agency 2CV to undertake the project, in early 2021. It wanted to “explore the gambling journeys and current behaviors of young people and young adults, and take a retrospective look at how respondents interacted with gambling during their childhood.”
The UKGC also stated that the report was “driven by evidence suggesting that younger people can be at greater risk of gambling harm. The research was designed to add deeper insights to our wider research conducted with children and young adults.”
2CV identified six fundamental points arising from the research:
- “Engagement with gambling throughout childhood and early adulthood aligns to a familiar set of life events.”
Early interactions with gambling are happen in similar situations for many. For instance, they may come on family holidays, and then later on, when young adults get their first jobs and therefore their own income.
- “Engaging with gambling or gambling style activities during childhood is common, but participation is primarily passive.”
People are often exposed to gambling at young age but usually indirectly. Parents may ask children to choose a lottery number, pick a horse in a race, or allow them to reveal prizes on a scratch card.
- “Exposure to the positive and negative extremes of gambling… at an early age can lead to an increased interest in gambling in later life, and in some cases riskier or more harmful gambling behavior.”
It was found that early exposure to gambling wasn’t enough on its own to influence later gambling habits, but more specifically that extreme events, both positive and negative can have a knock-on effect. Witnessing either large wins or losses can lead to riskier or problem gambling later in life.
- “Friends and family played an influential role in shaping gambling behavior, whilst advertising and marketing has less of an influence on young people’s tendency to gamble.”
It was found that most 16–25-year-olds did half or more of their gambling with friends, which can lead to peer pressure and also distort views of what constitutes normal gambling habits. Advertising was seen more as a “nudge” rather than a primary cause of gambling, although more targeted approaches like social media and email were viewed as having greater influence.
- “Young people are most vulnerable to experiencing gambling harm after achieving independence from their parents and moving out of home.”
Young adults develop financial autonomy around the same time as they are legally allowed to gamble, which unsurprisingly makes them particularly susceptible to developing problem gambling habits.
- “As people grow older gambling behavior does not stay the same.”
Gambling experiences themselves can change a person’s future actions. Wins tend to encourage more gambling while losses can reduce frequency or stake size. Increased responsibilities, such as settling down with a partner or saving for a house can also help to decrease gambling activity.
In conclusion, 2CV indicated four areas where further consideration might be beneficial:
- Children should be protected from the extremes of gambling, both positive and negative experiences.
- Young people would benefit from education on what ‘normal’ gambling looks like, giving them a framework to compare their own experiences to.
- Education about gambling should be ‘neutral’ rather than strongly positive or negative. For instance, the explanation of odds and probability of losing.
- More holistic methods of dealing with problem gambling are likely to be more beneficial, specifically focusing on friendship groups, and how they can influence behavior.
The Executive Director of the Gambling Commission, Tim Miller, said: “Protecting consumers is at the heart of everything we do, and it is important we understand the ways in which children and young people gain exposure to gambling, the products they are playing, and what factors influence their relationship with gambling.”
He added “This latest research forms an important part of our ongoing and wider research program into gambling behaviors and latest trends across Great Britain. Action to protect consumers should be led by evidence and today’s research publication provides important insights specifically into the ways that children and young people can be protected from gambling harms.”