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Gambling adverts on social media ‘more appealing to children than adults’

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Gambling advertising on social media is significantly more appealing to children and young people than to adults, according to a new study.

Disguised gambling marketing and adverts for betting on esports are especially alluring as they trigger positive emotions in under 25-year-olds, according to a study conducted at the University of Bristol.

A poll of more than 650 children, young people and adults across the UK revealed that the vast majority of adults were wary or annoyed when faced with gambling adverts, while children mainly reacted positively.

The report calls for tighter regulations for gambling content marketing and a ban on esports gambling advertising in order to prevent youngsters from becoming addicted to gambling. It adds that social media platforms should only allow gambling adverts on social media when users actively opt-in to receive them.

The online survey involved 210 children aged 11 to 17 years; 222 young people aged 18 to 24, and 221 adults aged 25 to 78 years in the UK. It was carried out between May and July in 2020 as part of the study.

The survey suggests that nearly half (45 per cent) of children and nearly three in four (72 per cent) of young people saw gambling advertising on Twitter at least once a week, with a quarter of children (25 per cent) and 37 per cent of young people saying they were exposed to gambling adverts on social media every day.

All 653 participants were deliberately exposed to 24 different Twitter gambling adverts during the study to investigate different emotional responses. The vast majority of gambling adverts on Twitter (19 out of 24) were more appealing to children and young people than adults, the report found.

Nearly two in three (15 out of 24) gambling adverts prompted positive emotions such as happiness, calmness or delight in both children and young people, whereas less than a third (seven out of 24) triggered a positive emotional response among older adults, according to the findings.

Adults were found to be four times more likely to react negatively, feeling distress, anger or tension when exposed to the gambling adverts. Esports gambling adverts were also found to be much more appealing to children and young people than adults, the report suggests.

Dr Raffaello Rossi, co-lead investigator and a marketing lecturer at the University of Bristol, said: “The overwhelming strong appeal of gambling advertising on social media to children is of huge concern, as it is known the earlier people start gambling, the more likely it will become habitual and problematic.

“That’s why there needs to be much stricter and clearer rules in place to clamp down on the issue, which could easily spiral out of control given how long children and young people spend on social media these days.

“Many of the adverts may look entirely innocent and harmless, but they in fact pose a serious risk of getting a whole new generation of gamblers hooked on a serious addiction which has devastating consequences.”

Kev Clelland, strategic alliance director at the charity Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust, said: “The findings support the evidence we submitted to the Gambling Act Review where we called for more to be done to minimise the exposure that children have to gambling advertising.

“All gambling advertising should be designed and displayed in a way that is appropriate for adults and avoids marketing techniques that appeal to children. There is opportunity to strengthen advertising protections and both the advertisers and the platforms which host adverts should use technology and data to do more.”

The UK government completed a review of the 2005 Gambling Act earlier this year. A white paper detailing the findings of that review is due to be published in early 2022.

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are committed to protecting people at risk of gambling-related harm. That’s why we are undertaking the most comprehensive review of gambling laws in 15 years to ensure they are fit for the digital age – this includes marketing and advertising wherever it appears.”

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