The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has raised concerns that new technology is providing children with opportunities to experience gambling behaviours through products including social casino games and skin betting on computer games.
The regulator said that children were experiencing gambling in situations where the risks were not always explained, with the research raising questions about the long-term impact for children whose early experiences of gambling are in a "consequence-free environment".
Conducted using Ipsos' Young People Omnibus, the report is the latest in a series of annual surveys by the UKGC on the subject of young people and gambling in the UK.
The findings are based on a sample of 2,881 11-16 year olds who were surveyed between February 6th and May 17th of this year, which indicated that 12 per cent of children had spent their own money on gambling in the week prior to being surveyed, creating a headline figure of 370,000 children who had gambled in the past week when grossed up to Great Britain’s population figures.
This was down from 16 per cent in 2016 and a continuation of the longer-term decline seen since 2011 when 23 per cent of 11-15 year olds in England and Wales had been found to have gambled in the past week.
Compared to other potentially harmful activities, gambling in the past week was shown to be more prevalent among young people than smoking cigarettes (5 per cent) and using drugs (3 per cent) but was less prevalent than drinking alcohol (16 per cent).
Gambling continues to be twice as prevalent among boys (15 per cent) as among girls (7 per cent), with the most common activities including fruit machines with 4 per cent having spent money on this in the past week. Private bets with friends were the next most popular with 3 per cent, alongside National Lottery scratchcards.
The UKGC noted that however much of the gambling activity among this age group took place in locations that do not require a gambling premises licence, for example playing on fruit machines in pubs or private bets at school or at home, and that underage gambling activity was less prevalent at licensed premises such as betting shops, bingo halls and casinos.
It warned however that new technology was providing children with opportunities to experience gambling behaviours through products such as free-to-play casino games, social media or within some computer games, which do not have the same level of protections or responsible gambling messages as regulated gambling products.
"We require gambling operators to have strong protections in place to prevent children from accessing their products and are actively reviewing how some, like age verification, can continue to be strengthened," said UKGC executive director Tim Miller.
"However, it is clear that many children's experiences of gambling-style activities are coming from the playground, the games console or social media rather than the bookmaker, the casino or the gambling website. That's why it is essential that we work across industries and with parents so that together we can protect children and encourage those that choose to gamble in adulthood to do so safely."
Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of 11-16 year olds who have gambled spent a relatively modest amount of £5 or less on gambling in the past seven days, however 8 per cent claimed to have spent more than £40. Among those who had gambled in the past week, the average spend on gambling activities was £10 from an average disposable income of £28 - money given to them as pocket money or money earned in the past week.
Amongst 11-16 year olds who have gambled in the past week, boys tend to spend more (an average gambling spend of £13) than girls (average spend of £5) during this period.
Similar to last year, 3 per cent of 11-16 year olds had spent their own money on online gambling, with a larger proportion (7 per cent) having gambled online using their parents' accounts, either with or without permission.
Just over one in ten young people (11 per cent) had admitted to playing social casino games, with the majority of these playing via apps on smartphones or tablets, with the same percentage participating in skin betting, which allows players to bet with in-game items when playing computer or app-based games.
The report also revealed that 80 per cent of children had seen gambling adverts on TV, 70 per cent on social media including Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, and 66 per cent on other websites.
More than half of 11-16 year olds (55 per cent) had seen gambling advertisements on TV at least once per week, while one in ten thought they could place a bet in a betting shop or play online poker legally under the age of 16.
"This suggests that more needs to be done to educate young people about the legal age to participate in different gambling activities," noted the UKGC.
The report classified 0.9 per cent of 11-16 year olds as 'problem' gamblers, 1.3 per cent as 'at risk' gamblers and 15.5 per cent as non-problem gamblers, based on the youth-adapted problem gambling screen DSM-IV-MR-J. The problem gambling figure was similar to the rates among adults (0.8 per cent among all adults over 16 as found by the 2015 Health Survey in England and Scotland and the Wales Omnibus).