Take a cue from Britain on sports gambling

A rise in the number of children as problem gamblers has the government cracking down. States in the U.S. rushing to allow sports gambling should take note.

Gamblers place bets in March on the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Atlantic City N.J. This was the first March Madness tournament since legal gambling expanded last year in the U.S.

In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to legalize betting on sports, at least a dozen states have rushed to pass legislation. More tax-hungry states may follow. Yet Americans should hit the pause button in light of the following news from across the pond:

In Britain, where youth have found it relatively easy to gamble on sports online, the government is setting up the first health clinic for children with gambling addiction. Another dozen clinics are in the works. Children as young as 13 will be eligible for treatment.

In recent years, the number of children with a gambling problem in the U.K. has exploded. More than 55,000 are problem gamblers, the government estimates, or about 1.7% of children under 16. Overall, more children place bets than consume alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs. 

Britain is not leaving the problem to chance. A new law requires gambling companies to check on a person’s age before taking his or her money. The industry has agreed to ban advertising around live sports during the daytime. And with evidence of more children committing suicide after running up gambling debts, Parliament has begun a probe of the gaming industry.

In one smart move, the Gambling Commission recently conducted a survey of children who have chosen not to gamble in order to better understand their moral reasoning. The hope is that those who abstain can influence those inclined to gamble. This is a welcome step in preventing children from trusting their lives to the deceptive promises of chance.

In its latest move, the government has twisted the arm of the five leading gambling companies to contribute more revenue in support of safer gambling. Their contributions will rise from the current 0.1% of gross gaming yield to 1.0% by 2023. The industry will also increase spending on gambling addiction treatment services and help better identify problem gamblers.

“As [gambling] technology advances, we will need to be even more sophisticated in how we respond,” says Britain’s culture secretary, Jeremy Wright.

Meanwhile in the United States, 18 states have so far rejected sports betting legalization bills for 2019, according to The Associated Press. Perhaps legislators in those states have concerns about luring children to gamble on sports. They also may want to keep encouraging young people to pursue careers and wealth through education and talent rather than a superstitious belief in luck.

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