Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Professor Orford, Professor of Clinical and Community Psychology, University of Birmingham

  1.  I should like to give evidence on one specific aspect of the Government's proposals. I do this as a psychologist with a long-standing research and clinical interest in behaviour and health generally, and in gambling and other forms of potentially addictive behaviour in particular. I provided the 'academic link' for the first British Gambling Prevalence Survey carried out in 1999-2000 by the National Centre for Social Research. I am the first author of a book entitled Gambling and Problem Gambling in Britain to be published by Brunner-Routledge later this year.


  2.  The Gambling Review Body received much evidence in support of the particular dangers of problem gambling amongst teenagers, and the particular potential of gambling machines to create problem gambling. There is no need for me to repeat that evidence here. Suffice it to say that there is a great deal of such evidence, mostly coming from the USA, Australia and Britain. The Review Body was persuaded of the vulnerability of young people for problem gambling, and the dangers of gambling machines. Hence one of the principles it adopted in making its specific recommendations was the principle that gambling should be confined to adults of 18 years of age and older. The Government proposes to make exceptions in the cases of the National Lottery and pools betting because they are thought to be forms of gambling with a lower potential for creating individual problems. That leaves the anomalous case of low stake/low prize gambling machines where, if I have understood correctly, the Government proposes to accept the Review Body's recommendation that children of any age would be permitted to play. The Review Body was clearly very concerned about that anomaly and made it clear that ideally, in keeping with the general principle that gambling should be an adult activity, the anomaly should be removed. I have often seen it stated that Britain is the only jurisdiction in the world that allows such under-age machine gambling. If that is true then the proposal to allow it to continue would be an anomaly internationally also. It therefore seems strange that the Government should be making this proposal, and there must be a strong suspicion that it is bowing to industry pressure on this sensitive matter. I understand that under-age machine gambling, particularly in seaside arcades, is very profitable for the industry.

  3.  There are several different types of gambling machine (low stake/low prize, all-cash, jackpot, etc) and this has made it very difficult for everyone concerned to understand the regulations and the dangers involved. The justification advanced by the Government for continuing to allow under-age machine gambling is that a distinction can be drawn between the low stake/low prize machines and all other types. The former have been referred to as "amusements with prizes" (or AWP machines) and are to be found in amusement arcades including seaside amusement arcades (which the Review Body called "family entertainment centres"). The Government considers them to be suitable for children whereas all other types of machine should be for adults only. From a psychological point of view this distinction makes little sense. AWP machines have a very similar appearance to other types, they are often found in the same premises separated into a different "area" by an invisible line, and the activity of playing the machines is essentially the same. It is not entirely clear why some forms of gambling appear to be potentially more dangerous than others. One of the leading hypotheses is that it is the speed of the cycle of play which is particularly dangerous ie if money can be staked, the outcome determined, winnings received, and the possibility of further staking allowed, all in a very short space of time, and in a way that can be repeated many times over, then the danger is greatest. The actual size of the stake or the prize is much less important according to that theory. In any case, the suggestion that low stake/low prize machines would be less dangerous for children completely ignores the different values of different sums of money for people of different ages. Staking 10p at a time (and potentially much more than that because of repetitive play) with the possibility of winning up to 5 is presumably of much greater significance to a 10-year old than to an adult.

  4.  There are two further lines of evidence that bear on this question of under-age machine gambling. First, there is evidence (known to and acknowledged by the Review Body and the Government) that later problem gambling is correlated with starting to gamble at a relatively early age. Indeed it would be surprising if it were otherwise since the same kind of finding pertains for other kinds of health-related behaviour (drug taking and drug problems, or sexual activity and early pregnancy for example). Allowing under-age machine gambling, however low the stakes and prizes may be, constitutes encouragement of and induction into early engagement in a form of behaviour which is potentially dangerous, and more dangerous the earlier it is commenced.

  5.  The second kind of relevant further evidence concerns the role of parents and families. One rationale for allowing under-age gambling which is often advanced is the argument that it constitutes an enjoyable activity for families and that it is safe provided children are supervised by adults. The evidence can be read in a way that supports exactly the opposite conclusion. One of the regular findings from studies abroad, repeated in the British Gambling Prevalence Survey, is the correlation between parent and offspring gambling, and the significantly higher frequency of parental problem gambling amongst problem gamblers themselves. The in-depth interview study of problem gamblers that was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research following the main survey again found that problem gamblers had usually been introduced to gambling as children in the company of a parent or other adult family member. Permitting under-age machine gambling in the company of adults who encourage young people to participate is therefore as likely to promote problem gambling as to prevent it.


  6.  In summary, therefore, I do ask the Committee to consider carefully the wisdom of allowing the anomaly of under-age machine gambling to continue in Britain. I believe the Government, in it eagerness not to restrict the gambling industry, would be allowing a practice to continue that puts young people at risk. Machine gambling is widely thought to be one of the more dangerous forms of gambling, and the Review Body's instinct was surely correct when it stated that ideally all gambling, particularly all machine gambling, should be confined to adults. A continuation of the system whereby children are allowed to play certain kinds of machine but not others will simply perpetuate the present confusing state of affairs in which parents, young people themselves, and others, are quite unclear about the different types of machine, about their dangers, and about the rules and regulations. To permit the playing of any type of gambling machine only by those of 18 years and older would contribute to protecting young people from one of the risks to which they are now exposed and would send a clear signal to parents and everyone concerned that machines carry certain dangers and are for adults only.

2 May 2002


previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 8 July 2002