Insight – how to tackle problem gambling in young people

Insight – how to tackle problem gambling in young people

Monday, September 5, 2016 Posted by Andy McCarron
Lee Willows of the Young Gamblers Education Trust on problem gambling

This week sees Lee Willows, founder of the Young Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) speak at the WRB Responsible Gambling Innovation in London. Willows is speaking on a panel discussing creating a segmented responsible gambling approach to target different risk groups, something that his work with young people makes him more than qualified to speak on.

YGAM has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, something which is testament to Willows' vision in the area and willingness to engage all parties.

Willows says that while having an addiction to gambling is devastating whatever your age, and the behaviours manifested are broadly similar, young people especially are more likely to perceive gambling as glamorous and downplay the risk of harm.

He told “The Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) commissioned a research review into Children and Young People’s Gambling by Professor Gill Valentine who suggests young people who have developed problem gambling issues, also potentially experience a range of mental health issues including depression and anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts/attempts. They are also more likely to truant or perform poorly at school; engage in substance abuse; exhibit anti-social behaviours (e.g. stealing); and experience disruption to family and peer relationships.

“However, the research evidence has not clearly established which of, and to what extent, these factors were present prior to problem gambling; or whether problem gambling caused these outcomes. In other words, problem gambling is often one element in a general pattern of high risk or anti-social behaviour.”

Willows says that YGAM’s work has illuminated the fact that parents and those with influence over young people’s behaviour are less likely to talk to children and young people about gambling than about other ‘risky’ behaviours such as drinking, smoking and sex.

“Young people’s problem gambling is not necessarily visible because they often do not seek help from formal agencies for their problems because of shame, fear they will be denied help, or because their problem gambling can be hidden within, or by, the family,” he explained.

“We also know key social risk factors which may increase the likelihood of a child or young person developing a gambling problem which include having parents who introduce them to gambling at an early age; having parents who are heavy gamblers themselves or having friends who are problem gamblers. Peer influence contributes heavily among young people and not all that influence is positive.”

YGAM points out that adults can be helped with their recovery via GamCare, Gordon Moody, National Problem Gambling Clinic or Gamblers Anonymous, and while these services are open to young people – something YGAM promotes to teachers and youth practitioners – Willows points out that they are much less likely to use them.

“Imagine being a fifteen year old, knowing you are experiencing harm and have hit rock bottom. You recognise you need help, but where do you turn? Naturally you may consider asking your teacher, however it is likely your teacher will know very little about gambling-related harm or have the basic knowledge to sign-post you.

“At YGAM we believe that talking about and having information on gambling-related harm should be as common place in schools, colleges or universities as what sexual health or drinking-related harm is. As addicts we tend only to reach for help once we have hit absolute rock bottom and a huge amount of chaos have been created in our lives. Prevention education is an important tool for minimising harm as it builds awareness and may promote young people experiencing harm to come forward for help and support before rock bottom is reached, minimising potential future chaos. It is not the silver bullet to minimising-harm, but a tool which has not really been used and that is where the industry can help.”

Willows added: “Personally I have also seen the power of peer education as a tool for empowering young people to take control of their lives. Peer education is used, for example to steer young people from substance misuse and a tool for them to address their behaviour. Such principles can be applied to gambling-related harm.”

Willows believes that the ASA’s effective banning of advertising of slots based on Marvel/DC characters, saying they appeal to under aged people, isn’t necessarily disproportionate.

He explained “Professor Valentine suggests that studies have identified that products in the gaming and gambling industries are converging: gambling products are including gaming themes; gambling themes are being integrated into games; and operators are encouraging customers to engage in both types of activity.

“This is a worrying trend among the teachers and youth practitioners whom we talk to as it plays in to the notion of glamorising gambling. Gambling companies have a responsibility to ensure children are protected; however what I find interesting is in the UK, video gaming companies are not subject to regulation. It is the perceived lack a digital literacy among young people and the rise of social gaming is what we find most teachers are concerned about.

“Marvel characters surely play into this and may not be appropriate. However it is a difficult balance as many adults enjoy the Marvel characters, so for me it comes back to prevention education, allowing (young) people can make informed choices and more importantly knowing the signs of harmful behaviour and where to go for help.”


For more information about the WrB conference, please click here.

For more information about YGAM, please click here.


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