Gambling is an addiction just like drugs – but why is the TAX-PAYER paying for the cure?

WHAT dangerous activity do children do more often than smoking, drinking or drugs? If you said gambling, you would be right. Years ago, I met a family who had lost their teenage son to suicide after fighting a gambling addiction.

Gambling is an addiction just like drugs – but why is the TAX-PAYER paying for the cure?
Fifty-five thousand children defined as problem gamblers (Image: getty)

That family’s loss is not an isolated case: it’s been depressing to meet several other grieving parents. Those campaigning parents went on to win the battle to persuade the Government to slash the stakes on the most addictive gaming machines from £100 to £2. Yet this victory can’t lead to complacency as we face further gambling challenges.

Today there are 55,000 children defined as problem gamblers – something I term a 'generational scandal'. Sadly, I fear we have done too little to prevent this from becoming a much wider problem.

Under-18s are regularly inundated with more than three gambling adverts a day while 90% of pubs fail to stop children from gambling on the loud and bright fruit machines found in nearly every establishment.

Children are the next target of an industry making billions in profits which shows little inclination to take any form of responsibility.

Parents, teachers and campaigners are seeing the impact of all of this, but it can only get worse when the youngest generation spend substantial parts of their lives online.

Under-18s regularly see more than three gambling adverts a day (Image: getty)

Like all of us, children are being conditioned to think gambling is an intrinsic part of life and the normal way to enjoy sport.

Like everything else, gambling is moving online. The techy brilliance of children is wonderful if it is part of a safe and encouraging world. Unfortunately, older generations are failing to provide this.

YouTube videos encouraging gambling are available to anyone and vloggers who have fame-status among the young like Morgan 'Morgz' Hudson and Jake Paul have encouraged fans to chance their luck on a ‘mystery box’ site where customers pay to win mystery items.

Other YouTube stars like Logan Paul and KSI this summer took part in a boxing event sponsored by a betting company.

Yet it’s not just videos – think how much time younger people spend on social media like Twitter.

This certainly hasn’t been lost on the gambling industry who spent £1.5 billion on adverts last year, and now flood such platforms with gambling-related content.

Gambling companies tell us they’re working hard to protect children but that claim simply doesn’t stack up.

Accounts followed by thousands are run by gambling companies promoting their websites with no age-verification meaning they are free to be followed by children and young people.

Gambling companies claim to protect children but it 'doesn't stack up' (Image: getty)

A further concern is the recent rise in so-called ‘loot boxes’ which are totally alien to many of us. Some see these functioning as gambling by any other name. They are wildly popular and wrapped up in many child-friendly games.

Even the much trumpeted ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban which has removed TV gambling advertising during live sporting fixtures still leaves pitch-side adverts and football jerseys emblazoned with betting logos.

Moaning about gambling isn’t good enough – substantial change is needed. Children and young people must be given the full protection from exposure to gambling which is meant to be their right.

We also have a duty to people of all ages to help them avoid the devastating impact of gambling addiction. The Government must make sure betting firms deliver on this.

'Moaning about gambling isn't good enough - substantial change is needed' (Image: getty)

It’s all well and good for the NHS Long Term Plan to say there will be more help available to gambling addicts but is the Government planning to publish any details? How many clinics to help gambling addicts are to be opened? Where will they be and how much money will be given to each of them?

It also might seem odd to many that the taxpayer is being asked to pay and not the industry itself.

This week I will be asking the Government to explain what it is doing to tackle the issue of underage gambling – an illegal and dangerous activity which has got worse in the past 12 months.

Parents and those who work with children deserve answers as to what the Government is going to do to reverse it.

I hope the Ministers responsible will share my New Year’s resolution: to protect children and young people from this unforgiving industry.

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