Tens of thousands of children are being lured into gambling thanks to the social media feeds of betting companies, an investigation has found.
According to the new report, 41,000 UK followers of gambling-related accounts are likely to be under 16 and children make up 6% of followers of ‘traditional’ gambling accounts.
13,000 replies to and retweets of gambling content were sent from UK children’s accounts.
The research by the University of Bristol and Demos, an independent think tank, also found that betting companies are using social media to promote gambling advertising.
Over nine months in 2018, 888,000 tweets were sent from Twitter accounts known to be related to betting, reaching some 4.8m users (700,000 in the UK).
Gambling firms are especially keen to promote ‘free’ bets, with half of tweets from gambling accounts related to ‘free’ or ‘matched’ bets.
‘Free bets’ messages are often very visually appealing, with 90% containing images, video or animation.
The industry is also failing in its responsibility to promote safe and fair gambling, with only 7% of tweets sent from a gambling account including a warning message within the text of the post.
The study also found that nearly three quarters of esports Tweets appeared to break regulations in some way, by presenting gambling as an income source, or by encouraging gambling as a regular activity.
Tweets encouraging the placing of bets on esports – multiplayer video games which often involve the use of cryptocurrencies – were also commonplace.
In total, 28% of UK-based users responding to such tweets were likely to be children – a figure which jumps to 45% worldwide. Only 0.1% of this content contained a warning about the minimum age for gambling.
The growth of online gambling presents unique challenges in a context where hundreds of thousands of young people are placing bets on a regular basis.
Gambling advertising and messaging is technically subject to the same strict rules that apply to offline gambling advertising.
It is regulated by professional bodies such as the Gambling Commission and the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP).
However, the scale of social media and the complexity of the platforms make it hard to properly keep up with the volume of gambling advertising out there.
One of the key issues found is that much of the social activity of gambling firms is to persuade people to bet, which is something only those over the age of 18 can legally do.
But it is hard to know who is viewing content online and on social media and this creates a space for gambling firms to get around the regulations and target vulnerable people and children.
Commenting on this latest report, CARE’s Communications Manager, James Mildred said: “Betting companies are getting around advertising rules by making prolific use of social media where it is very difficult to ensure young people are protected from advertising.
“It is clear that we need to make sure our current laws on gambling are updated to keep pace with the rapid technological changes that have taken place.
“We are facing a generational crisis and for the sake of protecting young people and families from the devastation caused by problem gambling, the Government must be willing to do more to ensure gambling companies stick to the rules.”
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