• Children as young as 8 are gambling, and sports betting ads are partly to blame. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Almost half of Australian children have gambled according to new research. So what can parents do to prevent this?
Megan Blandford

15 Mar 2017 - 11:14 AM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2017 - 11:24 AM

A new study has highlighted that 40 per cent of kids have already gambled. 

In the research, 48 sports-fan children aged eight to 16 were interviewed about their gambling beliefs. They described gambling as “fun”, “easy”, and an activity where “everyone wins”. They were able to talk about different betting options, and showed a keen interest in gambling in the future.

“Kids are getting these ideas from the advertising,” says Hannah Pitt, Deakin University researcher and the study’s author. “They’re hearing people saying "bet now’ and ‘just click this’ and they pick up on the positive messages they’re getting.

“These kids are watching a game a week or more of their favourite sport, and they’re seeing sports betting advertised within something they love,” Pitt says. “They’re hearing really sports-specific promotions such as, ‘If your team is winning at half time but loses you can get your money back’ and they start to think this is something they might want to take part in because they know about it.”

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Children aren’t targets, but they’re vulnerable

While gambling ads aren’t targeted at children, kids are major consumers of these messages.

“The ads themselves are not specifically targeting children,” says Pitt, “but there are a range of factors in them that are really appealing to kids: they might be funny ads or using celebrities, fun characters and sports stars. It gets the kids’ attention.”

Research tells us that for every AFL match a child watches on television, they’re exposed to 50 gambling messages; this increases to 58 if they’re attending the game. These messages are almost always positive towards the idea of gambling.

This all adds up to normalise gambling in kids’ minds: research shows that with this high exposure, it becomes an acceptable activity that is generally viewed as exciting and harmless.

They described gambling as “fun”, “easy”, and an activity where “everyone wins”. 

Gambling, though, is far from harmless. During the 2013-2014 football season it was estimated Australians lost $626 million, an increase of 25 per cent from the previous year. According to Lifeline, problem gambling can result in mental illness, debt, relationship problems and other negative effects on families, and job loss.

When our kids are exposed to gambling they become open to those same risks.

“When sports gambling is aligned with culturally valued events, the risks associated with kids are very similar to adults,” says Pitt. “Some kids might have just bet on the Melbourne Cup (maybe just in a sweep), which has traditionally been seen as an innocent form of gambling. But later, when they’re on the cusp of gambling age, it makes it easier for a transition to adult gambling to occur.”

One way to avoid normalising gambling is to set the example to your children by not gambling yourself.

This is not an insular problem; it’s also common for kids in Canada, the US, the UK and Norway to gamble, and gambling rates are much higher among Indigenous Australians than in the wider Australian population.

“It’s a community problem, so there are community solutions,” says Pitt. “Governments need to step up and close the loopholes in advertising regulations. Sporting codes – who make money through sponsorship and advertising deals – and broadcasters also need to protect their vulnerable sports fans.”

What can we do as parents?

There are a couple of ways you can start to counteract these messages within your own family:

- Be a good role model. “75 per cent of kids think gambling is a normal part of sport,” says Pitt. One way to avoid normalising gambling is to set the example to your children by not gambling yourself.

- Talk about it. “Be aware that your kids are being exposed (to gambling ads), so start the conversation with them,” Pitt suggests. “Ask them how much they know about it, and discuss the risks associated with gambling.”

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