To keep youth from gambling, ask those who abstain

A British survey not only audits a rising problem but probes the moral reasoning of the majority of young people who do not gamble.

Punters crowd around a bookmaker at Wimbledon Stadium in London.

Like many countries lately worried about young people being drawn to gambling, Britain has just issued an in-depth survey of the problem. Yes, more youths ages 11 to 16 are placing bets on gaming activities. And yes, more are “problem” or “at risk” gamblers. But the study by the Gambling Commission also takes a different, and perhaps more helpful tack.

It asked the vast majority of children who do not gamble for the reasons and influences in making such a choice.

More than half said they simply are not interested in waging bets or they consider themselves too young under the law. Nearly two-thirds said their parents would prefer they not gamble. About a quarter recognize they would lose money.

Just over 40 percent said gambling might lead to future problems. Nearly 60 percent agreed that “gambling is dangerous.” And depending on their background, 5 to 16 percent cited religious reasons not to play games that rely on a belief in luck or that can ruin lives.

The lesson here for countries trying to curb youth gambling is to tap into the moral reasoning of such children. It may be as persuasive as all the bans and restrictions on gambling. (In China, technology giant Tencent plans to use facial recognition of online gamers to spot minors, relying on a police database of the Chinese population.)

In Britain, more children have placed a bet than have consumed alcohol, smoked, or taken drugs, according to the survey. One reason for this problem is the rise of online gambling-style social games, such as Candy Crush, that often provide nonmonetary rewards. Such supposedly harmless gaming can help kids develop a taste for gambling with real money.

Another reason is ubiquitous marketing of Britain’s national lottery, sports gambling, and other popular games of chance. More than half of England’s top football (soccer) clubs, for example, have gambling company logos on their shirts. And since 2014, total spending by gambling companies on marketing has increased 56 percent. Yet, as the survey found, 85 percent of young people said they were not ever prompted to gamble based on an advertisement or sponsorship.

Children who feel free of the urge to gamble are a resource in any campaign against gambling. While they still deserve protection from inducements to gamble, they are often wise beyond their years. Out of the mouth of babes comes moral strength to choose a life based on talent, teamwork, and hard work, not an illusive notion of luck.

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