Anglican Bishop Attacks Gambling Companies That Target Children

The Cathedral of St. Albansd

30-second summary

  • Dr. Alan Smith says 55,000 children are problem gamblers
  • Adults fail to protect youngsters from exposure to gambling ads
  • Mystery boxes help normalize gambling
  • Long-term campaigner against gambling harm who fought to ban FOBTs

Children at risk

Dr. Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans in the UK, has resumed his attack on gambling operators that harm society, particularly by targeting under-18s. In his latest intervention, Smith said gambling had become a “generational scandal,” with at least 55,000 children now identified as problem gamblers.

Smith launched a major attack on the gambling companies in the Express newspaper. He said gambling is now a bigger problem for youngsters than alcohol or drugs, but there is not enough publicity about it.

He commented: “Moaning about gambling isn’t good enough – substantial change is needed. Children are the next target of an industry making billions in profits which shows little inclination to take any form of responsibility.”

He pointed out that youngsters typically are exposed to more than three advertisements for gambling every day. He added that 90% of pubs “fail to stop children from gambling on the fruit machines found in nearly every establishment.”

Tech-savvy kids exposed

The bishop said that children could easily access videos on YouTube that encourage gambling and that betting was also heavily promoted on social media. He said that children’s “techy brilliance” was not matched by adults who failed to protect them from the darker aspects of the online world.

He commented: “Parents, teachers, and campaigners are seeing the impact of all of this, but it can only get worse when the youngest generation spend substantial parts of their lives online. Like everything else, gambling is moving online. Children are being conditioned to think gambling is an intrinsic part of life and the normal way to enjoy sport.”

He also spoke out against YouTube stars such as Jake Paul, who have millions of young fans, promoting mystery boxes and taking part in boxing matches sponsored by betting companies.

As a senior figure in the Church of England, the bishop has a seat in the UK’s House of Lords, the second tier of the parliament. He addressed the chamber yesterday on children becoming problem gamblers, specifically mentioning gambling ads and the lure of loot boxes.

RGA rebuts bishop’s comments

The Remote Gambling Association (RGA), an industry body representing licensed operators that offer remote gambling in Europe, rejected the bishop’s claim that gambling companies fail to adequately protect children. It said there were plenty of “effective protections online.”

A spokesperson for the RGA said: “For obvious reasons due to age verification software and technological advantages, remote gambling is in a good position when it comes to protecting children from access to online platforms. However, the gambling industry must never be complacent where children are concerned, and we will continue to address any shortfalls which exist.”

Campaigner against FOBTs

Bishop Smith is a long-time campaigner against gambling harm for adults, too. He was a leading voice in the battle to cut the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 ($129) to £2 ($2.57).

He became involved after meeting the parents of a young man who had taken his own life after running up huge gambling debts.

In June 2018, he introduced a so-called private member’s bill – the Betting Licenses Bill – to the Lords. The bill sought to empower local authorities to control the number of betting shops that provide FOBTs in their towns.

He described this as an “illogical anomaly” and an “obstacle to local authorities tackling gambling-related harm on our high streets.”