The number of children suffering from a gambling addiction has quadrupled in the last two years.
According to an audit by the UK Gambling Commission, the number of children aged 11 to 16 with a gambling problem quadrupled to 55,000 over two years. It also discovered that an additional 70,000 children were at risk and around 450,000 children bet regularly.
The audit, which was first reported in the Daily Mail, revealed that youngsters bet an average of £16 per week on fruit slot machines, bingo or at betting shops and online websites, all of which are illegal for anyone under 18.
It also found that around two-thirds of children were being bombarded with gambling advertisements on television and that more children claimed to have placed a bet in the last week than drank alcohol, smoked or taken drugs.
The report revealed that almost a million youngsters have been exposed to gambling through “loot boxes”, rewards in video games that contain items hidden from view until after they have been won or purchased.
The Church of England called the findings “deeply concerning” before warning that the country needed to take the “dangers of gambling seriously”.
The bishop of St Albans, the Right Reverend Alan Smith, said: “Today’s findings by the Gambling Commission make worrying reading and serve as a warning to parents. After years of progress, it seems the rates of children gambling are creeping back up.
“These figures suggest 450,000 11-to-16 year-olds have gambled in the past week – that is deeply concerning. We need to start taking the dangers of gambling seriously.”
He continued: “However much the gambling industry says it is not targeting the young, it is clear that a significant minority of teenagers are still being drawn into gambling and it is no coincidence that one in six children have seen gambling adverts on social media.
“In-game gambling and loot-boxes are a new phenomenon and so require new answers. The world has changed since 2005 when the gambling sector was deregulated and so, sadly, has gambling. Therefore, government, local authorities, schools, the private and the charitable sector need to study these findings carefully and put in place preventative measures to safeguard young people.”
The news comes just one week after the Commission revealed that almost 90% of pubs in the UK fail to prevent children from gambling on their premises.
The Gambling Commission discovered the figures after launching an investigation and licensing local authorities to check whether pubs were following UK law.
Their report came amid an uproar over gambling ads that air during live sporting events and before the watershed period.