Sputnik: According to a major study published by Ipsos Mori gambling companies are not doing enough to stop children from using their services and seeing their adverts online. Could you explain some of the significance of this ruling? How are children being exposed and lured into gambling?
Mark Griffiths: When it comes to advertising whenever you put out an advert you can't be entirely sure who sees it. Obviously, when it's on TV, we have rules about the watershed and most gambling adverts, particularly for the harder forms of gambling or after nine o'clock when we'd expect children to be in bed, but of course, children are now using social media and if they've got Twitter accounts, it's very hard for children not to see the adverts are being put out by gambling operators. It's not that the gambling operators are deliberately trying to lure children into this but of course what's happening is because of the popularity of various social media sites is that children will see these adverts and there's no time restriction on seeing them.
Sputnik: Is this a case of deliberate actions from betting companies or a failure of the government and local authorities to properly protect minors from adult content?
Mark Griffiths: When we talk about social media it's very hard for governments or especially local authorities to have any kind of influence on this unless there's some kind of legislative ruling. If there was a law that said 'you cannot advertise gambling via social media' that would be easy to believe, but when there's 24/7, 365 days a year medium, it's just really hard for anybody to police it and the gambling industry, yes I don't think any of them would say that they want children to see these adverts.
Advertising and marketing is allowed, within the British context, unless there's a complete ban. Again, it's very hard to police and as I say, I don't think you'd find a single member of the gambling industry that said they want to target or lure in children. We know that the younger you start gambling, the more likely you are to develop a problem later in life.
We know that problem gamblers are actually not a good long term business proposition for the industry because they have a short shelf life. What you want as an industry is to have long term repeat customer over many, many years. Problem gamblers are not part of that. Unfortunately, in the UK we do have a more relaxed regime in terms of gambling compared to some other countries. I personally would like to see all forms of gambling raised to the age of 18 and when it comes to advertising, it's not that I want a complete ban on advertising but it has to be strictly regulated in terms of where you distribute that that marketing. It shouldn't really be able to be seen by children - so putting it after a 9 pm watershed.
With social media, I've got no easy answer to this. There's no panacea for this. It's just the gambling industry have to take some responsibility realizing that their adverts might be seen by minors out there, but they're never going to be able to prevent it because of the nature of that particular medium.
Sputnik: Ok. On the back of these new findings and renewed discussions around legislation for gambling firms, could we see further regulation slapped on companies? If so, what would these laws look like?
Mark Griffiths: I'm not a regulator and I don't know the ins and outs of specifics of how you're going to regulate when we're talking about social media and particularly social media that crosses lots of geographical boundaries. I always say that anything on the internet you're only as strong as your weakest link. Even if you make some kind of ruling in one jurisdiction that follows one particular piece of legislation it may not actually occur another jurisdiction and their legislation.
You have to have some kind of federal or country agreements on these and obviously, gambling is something that's been devolved down on it on a country by country basis, which means, you know, whatever we do here in the UK might not apply to other European countries or other countries around the world. The genie is out of the bottle in a way, in terms of that the internet is out there. This is an issue that every country has to grapple with - it's not something just about the UK but gambling is very much down when we talk about kind of things that we don't want people to do on the internet, gambling is way down the list, things like online pornography or online child sex abuse is always going to have a much higher importance than something like gambling.
Gambling is one of those things that kind of falls off the radar. I'm a psychologist and I've spent over 30 years studying gambling we know that child now adolescent gambling is a small but significant problem. Advertising and marketing is one of those things that contribute to children gambling and it's incumbent on all stakeholders to try and do something about it.
It's not just the industry's problem or the government's problem, but something that parents have to take responsibility; schools have to take responsibility in educating about gambling. It's one of those things that are globally and lots of different stakeholders come together and try and solve these problems.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.