Do we want to be the great protector of children and risk gamblers or do we want to have young children spinning and flipping away hundreds of pounds at the local seaside casino (also known as arcades)? The above statement may be crass but it is absolutely true. While we rarely talk about it, an infant is legally allowed to gamble in this country in countless establishments.
Even with all the 18+ signs and heavy fines, online operators are exposed to, children in the UK can gamble all their pocket money (and more) away without parents seeing it. That’s why we need to talk about the extreme hypocrisy, the absurd contradictions, and our complete failure at handling child gambling.
- Child Gambling Addiction doubled since 2017
- 55,000 children are estimated to be Problem Gamblers
- The highest estimate is 70,000
- 4.4% of children between 11 and 16 are either problem gamblers or are at risk, that corresponds to 144,000 children
- There is no data for children under 11
The above numbers are from the UK Gambling Commission’s very own report from October 2019.
One extremely positive step has been taken. NHS has announced they will set up the first gambling clinic for children, which hopefully will bring the destructive and horrifying growth of child gambling addiction to a halt.
If you want to gamble, you need to prove that you are 18 years old or more, of course, you do! Online gaming is strictly 18+ and the same goes for betting in actual casinos or your local PaddyPower or William Hill shops.
You cannot even be seen in a casino or betting advert if you look under 25. That’s right, people looking younger than 25 years old could even be denied access. Why? Because you can under no circumstances make it seem like gambling is ok for “young people”, even though 25-year old adults have legally been allowed to gamble for 7 years now.
These rules may seem like a great deterrent to underage people gambling away their pocket money but there’s a pretty disturbing loophole.
It doesn’t matter if you are 2, 5 or 11 years old – if you or your child can walk up to a slot and press spin, that is their legal right according to the current regulation. We’re not just talking about claw grabbers here, we are talking coin machines and actual slot machines. There are no spending limits, no guarantee of supervision and absolutely anyone can join in.
This loophole is not even hiding, it is out there and proud. We are, of course, talking about arcades, or as they are legally recognized Family Amusement Centres. The staple of a good wholesome family outing for years and in fairness, many people never thought about it in this light.
There is no getting around this point. Family Amusement Centres (often called arcades/seaside arcades) are first and foremost casinos. They are designed for children and adults to gamble away as much money as possible.
We don’t want to leave any room for confusion here, therefore, we will be very specific about the different types of amusement arcades.
- Adult Gaming Centres: No children allowed
- Licenced Family Entertainment Centres: Have adult sections where children are not allowed
- Unlicensed Family Entertainment Centres: Free for all
The first two have handled the matter perfectly by simply not allowing children to gamble. It is as easy as that and you’d almost think it was the law (almost). In fact, hearing the words “Unlicensed Family Entertainment Centres” would have you believe they were operating against the law or were doing something our authorities disapproves but no, this is completely legal.
These “Unlicensed Family Entertainment Centres” allow children of all ages to gamble in their premises.
Let’s start by answering that cliffhanger. Children can gamble legally because of something called Category D Gaming Machines. To be clear, while they do not need a casino licence, they still need a permit, which is issued by the local authority and allows the “casinos” to get any Category D gambling machines they want. This includes:
- Slots (!)
- Coin machines (!)
- Crane Grabs
And of course, any other form of gambling, be it cash prizes or another form of reward can be present. If you have ever been inside an amusement arcade you probably know what we are talking about.
To be clear, there are certain standards Category D Gaming Machines must follow and are in place to apparently protect us. However, the advertising standards that apply to casino games do not apply to them. They can and do use popular imagery from children’s shows and films. There is also no legal need to warn users of how addictive they can be. It is essentially a free-for-all.
So, what are these standards/requirements that make them “child-friendly”?
The answer is simple but disappointing: Betting and winning limits. However, all that means is that (in general) the amount you can bet or win is lower but there is a surprising exception.
As you can see above, things get a little wobbly when we reach that final child-friendly category and it gets more and more disturbing the more you think about it.
Children can bet more on “child-friendly gambling machines” than on adult-only Category C machines? Yes, they can!
This is because of a jolly machine we all know well: The Crane Grab. Decorated with all kinds of cuteness, including Hello Kitty and Peppa Pig, these machines allow children to gamble away up to 1 whole pound. The prize? Anything from a Dairy Milk to a toy, with the prize values allegedly going up to £50.
If you have ever been to any kind of amusement arcades, you know this part already. The crane grab and coin machines are usually filled with chocolate bars and alluring toys. Even though you can’t win chocolate directly from slot machines you can find often the so-called “tickets”. And what do these tickets give you? Well, chocolate and toys!
It is clear that amusement arcades use sweets and toys to encourage children to gamble.
Sweets and toys are even written into the rules. To clarify, there are two rules for “Child Gambling Machines”: one for real money prizes and one for “other”. What is that other you ask? Candy and toys essentially.
Recently the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee released a damning report. It was unfortunately not about Amusement Arcades but about an equally important issue: Loot Boxes.
Using the 2018 survey, they highlighted the terrifying increase in child gambling addiction and as a recommendation, classify Loot Boxes as a form of gambling. And of course, underage gambling is not legal (except, we all know it very much is).
Let us read what UK authorities forbid from any actually licenced arcade or casino:
- Nothing should entice children to gamble
- Nothing should be appealing to children
- Nothing should even be appealing to young people
But why then Unlicensed Family Entertainment Centres can have Hello Kitty games, Jurassic Park coin pushers and a bunch of candies as prizes? There can only be one explanation for that: We actually want children to gamble.
We are living in a Britain where, in the (previous) 2018 report, 3.7% of 12-year-olds are either problem gamblers or at risk.
This year the data is more obscured, splitting the 11 to 16-year-olds into two age groups. What we see is that among 11 to 13-year-olds 4% are problem gamblers, or at risk. For the older group of 14 to 16-year-olds, the report shows 4.7%.
This is a very small difference, and unfortunately, the numbers are even less pleasant when we look closer. The major difference is due to the children who are at risk, but not yet actual problem gamblers. This increases from 2.4% to 3% as we compare the younger and older sample groups. There is however no significant difference in actual problem gambling when we look at younger children.
- Problem gamblers aged 14-16: 1.7%
- Problem gamblers aged 11-13: 1.6%
This reveals an incredibly frightening reality. We have no idea how affected children under 11 are. The gambling commission has not collected any such data. There is no numerical indicator. However, look around in your local arcade; the number of young children may shock you.
Every indicator says that the issue will continue to grow and if nothing is done, we will genuinely become a nation of child gambling addicts that will later become adult addicts. Why wait until they grow up to take action?
And how can we reconcile our split personality? How can we tackle the lightest piece of animated character at an online casino but ignore amusement arcades exploiting children with candies and toys? We can and should become a nation that takes child gambling addiction seriously. Yes, not just in words but by taking concrete action.
We can become a nation that embraces responsible gambling and does what is needed to protect its most vulnerable. But to get there, we need to have a very hard talk about just who we are. More than anything we need to address the real elephant in the room: Do we really want children to keep gambling?
It is time to change our minds.
Chris Odegarden is a casino expert and a Senior Editor at NewCasinos.com. He started his career as a journalist but moved onto copywriting and started his own company before entering the casino industry almost a decade ago. Since then, he has managed several key casino publications before joining the New Casinos team in 2018. His goal is to make information as clear as possible and to ensure that the reviews, guides and articles published are up to high standards. Odegarden is a passionate but careful gambler, which has also informed his focus on responsible gambling. He is the originator of the initiative StartTheDebate, which looks at problematic gambling, especially among children in the UK. The project lead him to Westminster where he was invited to speak to MPs to find ways to bring changes to current regulations. Odegarden continues to use NewCasinos.com to ensure that casino players can make informed choices, including producing a long line of expert casino guides to help you optimize your odds.More info on Christoffer Odegarden