Cartoon characters alleged to expose children to online gambling

The online gambling industry has come under further fire from the media with a flurry of recent newspaper articles commencing with one entitled “Cartoons lure kids to online gambling” in the Sunday Times on 8 October, alleging that children are being targeted by operators who use cartoon and storybook characters in their online gambling games. The Sunday Times article specifically mentions Paddy Power’s Peter Pan game, 888’s Jack & the Beanstalk game and Casinoland’s Moon Princess game and makes the above allegation in relation to both “pay to play” and “play for free” games (where no pre-registration to play is required).

Followed by articles in other newspapers, notably the Daily Mail, the timing of this criticism (whether or not coincidentally) comes at a particularly sensitive moment for operators as Responsible Gambling Week, a national, cross-industry initiative to promote responsible gambling, runs from tomorrow 12 October 2017 until 18 October.

This latest criticism is likely to have serious repercussions for the industry, with Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit commenting that: “Research has shown that when we look at those children who are problem gamblers, the No. 1 risk factor is playing online games for free. Children are getting access via their mobile phone to these games in a much easier way than even five years ago”.

Concerned operators should read the ASA’s online advice note entitled “Betting & Gaming: Appeal to Children” (that can also be downloaded below).

Indicating how seriously the Gambling Commission regards the allegation, it has published on its website an open letter to the Editor of the Sunday Times following the 8 October story, that reads as follows:

“Sir

Parents will understandably be concerned to read about the risks of children being exposed to gambling online.

Protecting children from being harmed or exploited by gambling is a clear priority for the Gambling Commission. Our rules require strong age verification checks to prevent underage gambling. Where businesses fail to protect vulnerable people, especially children, we have and will continue to take firm action. 

Our current powers to regulate online gambling have been in effect for just a couple of years. However, the online world is fast moving meaning we constantly monitor the approach we take. Earlier this year we announced that we had commenced a wide ranging review of online gambling. At the same time our expert advisers, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, are examining the wider relationship between children and gambling. Together these will give a clear picture of where further action may be necessary.

New technology brings both opportunities but also new risks. Earlier this year we successfully prosecuted two YouTube users who were exploiting the FIFA computer game to provide illegal gambling which was accessible to children – the first regulator in the world to bring such action. This clash between the world of computer games and the world of gambling is just one example of the need for continuous vigilance when keeping children safe online.

The Gambling Commission is committed to using our powers and our expertise to play our part in creating a safer internet.

Tim Miller, Executive Director, Corporate Affairs and Research”

It is worth noting also that, underlining the increasing concerns in relation to this topic, on 14 September 2017 the House of Lords debated the topic of “Children: Gambling Advertisements”, a Hansard transcript of which can be read here.