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Gambling addiction and protection of minors in European Union

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Gambling addiction

Where such information is available, rates of probable gambling addiction appear to vary from 0.3% to 3.1% of the entire population (Data from 7 Member States, M. Griffiths, Problem gambling in Europe: An overview, Appex Communications, April 2009.). Pathological (addictive) gambling has been considered by some specialists as an impulse control disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed., American Psychiatric Association, 1994.) and therefore not referred to as addiction. However, recent studies have discovered similarities between gambling and substance addiction (Draft of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed., American Psychiatric Association, publication planned for 2013.). As mentioned in section 3.1, gambling problem screening tools used in surveys allow for the identification of individuals that have severe problems with their gambling behaviour. There are contrary views as regards the addictive potential of on-line gambling. Although remote gambling fulfils the criteria of availability and accessibility, making frequent playing easier than in case of land-based gambling venues, it is difficult to draw direct links between remote gambling and the likelihood of becoming an addicted gambler.

On-line gambling provides operators with more sophisticated possibilities to track the transactions of each player compared to off-line gambling formats. In contrast to prevalence studies, on-line gambling data allow for studies of the player’s real behaviour. A study of on-line gaming behaviour carried out by the Division on Addiction, Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School (The study was carried out in a research partnership with bwin who made its customer database available.), based on a long term analysis of individual gaming activity of a random sample of nearly 50,000 on-line casino players from 80 countries and an almost equal sample of on-line sports betting participants showed that 99% of the customers of on-line sports betting did not display any unusual gaming behaviour compared to 95% in the case of on-line casino players (LaBrie, LaPlante, Nelson, Schaffer, Assessing the Playing Field: A prospective Longitudinal Study of Internet Sports Gambling behaviour (with Schumann,) Journal of Gambling Studies, 2008; Inside the virtual casino: A prospective longitudinal study of Internet casino gambling (with Kaplan), European Journal of Public Health, 2008 and Population trends in Internet sports gambling” (with Schumann),Computers in Human Behaviour, 2008.).

The report prepared for the Swedish Presidency in 2009 (Svenska Spel, The cost of gambling. An analysis of the socio-economic costs resulting from problem gambling in Sweden. Council of the EU. DS 406/09. Brussels, 2009.) mentions that although some research suggests the existence of a positive link between accessibility and gambling addiction, the available empirical data do not always confirm this. Where it has been possible to compare the results of prevalence studies carried out 7-10 years ago (when on-line gambling was less popular) with the results of studies carried out more recently, the gambling addiction prevalence rate remained steady (For example: Finland and UK.).

Also the British Gambling Prevalence Survey carried out for the Gambling Commission in 2007 found that addiction rates for on-line gambling in the UK were lower than for some types of off-line games and that the addiction seemed to be more linked to the introduction of new and thus more “attractive” types of games, whether on-line or off-line (Addiction rates among past year gamblers. British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007, National Centre for Social Research, Sept 2007..

The Commission notes that most on-line gambling websites established and licensed in the EU have hyperlinks to help-lines or organisations working with problem gamblers. However, even if 15 Member States have carried out national or regional prevalence studies – there is little information available about the relevant policy response to these studies (e.g. launch of educational campaigns or additional recourses given to prevention or treatment) or to what extent problem gamblers have access to treatment (Only 4 Member States (AT, EE, FI and UK) provided the Commission with information on problem gambling in the context of the Commissions study “Study on gambling services in the EU Internal Market”, Chapter 9.9, p. 1453, cited above.).

Protection of minors and other vulnerable groups

The regulatory frameworks in all Member States seek in different ways to protect minors, i.e. children and adolescents, against the risks of gambling in general (The age of majority in all Member States except Austria is 18 (Austria 19).). Age limits for gambling may be set out in law or in licence conditions and operators (including retailers/concession holders) are obliged to carry out age verification. The age limits in an individual Member State may also vary from one gambling service to another.

Minors’ access to payment systems

Payment processing systems can be an effective means to prevent access to on-line gambling services by minors. Though it is possible for persons under the age of 18 to open bank accounts, there are limitations. A wide range of documents and proofs of identity must be presented and, as a rule, a parent or a legal guardian must present him/herself in the bank together with the underage account holder (parental control). Young persons are not normally legally responsible for their debts so they are unlikely to be granted an overdraft on a bank account and credit card applications from people under the age of 18 will be turned down. As a consequence, the bank or the financial service provider will provide an extra level of age verification before a young player can open a player’s account with an on-line operator.

However, stakes can, and will increasingly, be paid by using a mobile phone (added to the invoice), e.g. by a text message or a call to premium rate phone number and in these cases it may be easier for minors to be able to gamble.

– Minors and marketing of on-line games

As Member States authorities (and operators) seek to prevent minors from having access to on-line gambling services, they also seek to control marketing and promotion of such services. Examples of restrictions include rules that require promotions for such services not to:

– Be directed at those aged below the national limit for participation;

– Be broadcast (TV or radio) or communicated during specific programmes aimed towards young people on mainstream channels, or for certain periods of time before or after such programmes;

– Include or display a person that appears to be of an age below the national limit for participation;

– Otherwise appeal to children or young persons, e.g. by being associated with youth culture or communicated by a celebrity (e.g. replica jerseys promoting an on-line gambling operator) ; or

– Be displayed close to areas that children frequent (e.g. billboard advertising close to schools).

– Other vulnerable types of players

Other players may be vulnerable due to their:

– Financial situation; players on low incomes;

– Inexperience; in particular young adults (aged 18-21) and/or those that are not awareof the risks associated with problem gambling;

– Previous dependency or addiction relating to a chemical substance use or behaviour (use of off-line gambling services);

– Easy access to gambling; sales agents or employees of gambling service providers or contractors; and

– Other frequent exposure to gambling and/or strong links to betting objects. This could include persons employed in the horse racing sector, athletes (amateurs and professionals), coaches, referees, stock-brokers etc.

© European Union

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