Age verification for the online gambling industry – By Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked
The number of problem gamblers aged 11-16 in the UK has risen to 55,000. That was the stark recent warning of the Gambling Commission, revealing that the number of UK children with a gambling problem as quadrupled over the past two years. The same report found that 450,000 of 11-16-year-olds gamble on a regular basis.
This presents some serious safeguarding issues for parents and gambling industry leaders alike. Consider this recent study undertaken by academics at Sweden’s Lund University. It reports that problem gamblers are 15 times more likely to attempt suicide, whilst Conservative MP Tracey Crouch stepped down from her post as Sports & Civil Society Minister after new regulation around fixed odds betting terminals was delayed. She cited that the delay was inexcusable on the grounds that ‘two people tragically take their lives every day’ due to gambling-related issues.
It seems almost certain that the scale, scope and ease of access of online gambling has a lot to do with this rise. More powerful mobile devices and faster cellular connectivity are making it easier than ever for gamblers – including minors – to use gambling website and applications.
So it is perhaps unsurprising – and certainly to be welcomed – that the NHS recently announced the opening of a ‘gambling clinic’, which it is hoped will help those under the age of 18 who have developed an affliction. Meanwhile, the owners of William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral, Paddy Power, Betfair, Skybet and Bet365 have all pledged to increase their voluntary levy on gambling profits from 0.1% to 1% to help tackle gambling addiction. Other steps that gambling and gaming business can take to protect young people include restrictions on so-called ‘loot boxes’ – consumable virtual items which can encourage young people to keep spending on gaming website and apps – and ‘freemium’ business models, which seek to encourage users to upgrade to paid-for versions of a game or bet, sometimes through aggressive marketing techniques.
However, the most powerful and all-encompassing way of protecting young people from gambling addiction has to start at the beginning – preventing underage gamblers from starting in the first place. Happily, the Government has enforced changes in legislation surrounding age checks on gambling websites, even for free-to-play games. But, after the ASA recently found a number of sites to be illegally targeting minors, the onus is clearly now on gambling businesses to ensure they are fostering a degree of responsibility for restricting children’s access in the first instance.
The challenge is for gambling and gaming websites to introduce robust and reliable age verification solutions, which cannot be easily bypassed by underage users but do not dramatically take away from the experience for older players. This is where solutions like AgeChecked’s technology come in. Our approach is in-depth and intelligent, drawing on multiple different information sources such as mobile phone operators, driving licences and credit card providers, making it much harder for underage users to falsify a login. However, we only go through this detailed process once. Users are then equipped with an age-verified account which they can use next time they want to access a gaming or gambling website, keeping the experience smooth and seamless for adult users.
Protecting young people from gambling whilst enabling adults to enjoy it responsibly is a key balancing act for all gambling organisations to strike. AgeChecked is proud to be supporting organisations in this sector.
Alastair Graham is the CEO of AgeChecked, a provider of online age verification for websites that sell age-restricted goods and services.