The ‘epidemic’ of teens addicted to gambling – a moral panic with little substance?

The Gambling Commission recently released its latest 2018 ‘Young People and Gambling Report’, triggering some dramatic headlines:

Headlines from The Independent and The Daily Mail.

The news reports tended to focus on three statistics to support their narrative of ‘teens in crisis’:

  • 55 000 children under 16 were categorised as ‘problem gamblers’, or 1.7% of the population, a figure which has quadrupled in two years.
  • There were a further 75 000 young people ‘at risk’ of becoming problem gamblers.
  • 450 000 13-18 year olds gambled at least once a week, equivalent to 14% of the population.

The news reports then tended to Segway into the underlying reasons explaining the increasing numbers of ‘teens in crisis’, blaming primarily the increase in T.V. adverts promoting gambling and ‘loot boxes’ in video games.

However, this seems to be just a moral panic….

If you take the time to actually read the latest report by the Gambling Commission (available here) it appears that there isn’t really an epidemic at all…. This really is just a case of a pure media constructed moral panic.

The number of teens with serious gambling problems has increased, but this is due to changes in sampling over the two years:

The report explicitly states:

>”The differences can largely be attributed to a larger number of respondents qualifying for the screening questions than in previous years, due to the addition of a question which enabled us to identify past 12 month gamblers more accurately than before.”

Looked at in the long term, the number of teens gambling is going down:

Granted, there’s been a small upturn in recent years, but the overall trend is definitely down, as it is with drinking and drug use. Basically, the kids are alright!

Of the ‘450K teens who have gambled in the last week, they’re mainly playing cards’!

So teens are mainly playing actual cards with their friends, as well as the odd scratch card. Just like we all did when we were teenagers, it’s just that now this is a ‘problem’ rather than kids just doing what kids do, which is what it was back in the late 80s!

Final Thoughts…

Maybe a more honest headline would have been:

‘Despite advertisers goading them into wasting their money, only 1.7% of young people have a problem with gambling’.

I don’t want to seem flippant, 1.7% of teens, or 55K people, is a lot of people (roughly equivalent to the current number of active steem accounts!), but it’s not enough to claim there is a ‘significant. social problem’. If we were talking about unemployment, inflation, educational underachievement, victims of crime, <2% would be a sign that at the societal level, everything’s basically OK.

So in brief, and on the whole, the kids are alright! 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like this related posts on the possible moral panic over video games disorder

Picture sources 

The Indpendent – https://www.independent.co.uk/news/child-gambling-problem-betting-tv-adverts-a8643926.html

The Daily Mail – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6411759/Epidemic-child-gamblers-Experts-blame-explosion-TV-adverts.html

Gambling stats – https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/PDF/survey-data/Young-People-and-Gambling-2018-Report.pdf

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