-Tuesday, July 27, 2004

New Research Shows that Minors Have Easy Access to Online Gambling Services

A study released Monday in the United Kingdom draws some unflatteringly conclusions for the interactive gaming industry and its ability to block minors from accessing services.

The study, conducted by GamCare, Citizencard and the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety (CHIS), tested 37 online gaming sites to see if a minor could set up an account.

The group got a 16-year-old girl to sign up using her Solo credit card, but once her credit card and correct address were entered, she used an incorrect age, saying that she was 21-years-old.

Under the parameters of the study, a site "passed" if after the registration process the account was blocked or a request was made for further proof of age and ID. Sites that "failed" were those at which the user could log on and gamble.

For the purpose of the study, no minors were allowed to place bets or gamble on the sites, which ranged from casinos to sports books, but they could access the systems using their usernames and passwords once their accounts were approved.

Much to the chagrin of industry leaders, the minor was able to open up an account and access gambling systems on 30 of the sites.

Many of the operations had multiple delivery channels, including wireless and interactive TV, through which she could have gambled as well.

All of the sites that passed the test were licensed in either Alderney or the United Kingdom.

Various companies offer age verification systems specially designed to block accounts from minors, but the study found that many of the sites didn't use them.

Gambling MinisterAndrew McIntosh said he was troubled by the results, especially at a time when the U.K. government is moving forward with a policy of regulating online gambling sites.

"These are very worrying findings," McIntosh said. "Having already warned the industry that Solo cards should be treated with caution, it is disappointing to find so many haven't taken this on board. I will raise this with them again, and I'm confident that they will respond positively this time. The banking sector should take some responsibility too."

McIntosh added that the U.K. government is committed to working with the industry to ensure that minors are kept from gambling online.

"We will continue to prompt them to do everything possible to help the gambling industry properly identify whether their customers are 18 or not," he said. "But above all, this shows that in the face of rapidly changing technology, our gambling laws are unable to keep pace. We hope to introduce the Gambling Bill in autumn, and this will include powerful new protections for children, including a requirement that remote gambling sites operating from the U.K. will, by law, be compelled to make proper age verification checks."

Several well known brands in the gaming industry were among the 30 sites at which the study claims the minor established accounts, among them: 888.com, Betfair.com, bet365.com, coral.co.uk, littlewoodsgameon.co.uk, paddypower.com, paridisepoker.com, sportingbet.com, skybet.co.uk, victorchandlercasino.com and williamhill.co.uk.

An unidentified executive with one of the failing sites said underage gambling is a major concern.

"We don't want to make any money off of minors or those with a gambling problem," he said. "We are willing to work with groups to ensure that no minors are allowed to slip through the cracks in the future."

The authors of the study are calling for all U.K.-based operators to install effective age verification systems urgently and for the government to push for measures protecting children from gambling to be set forth in the Gambling Bill as soon as possible.

The study also recommends that banks and credit card companies play a "greater role in preventing underage gambling." A significant number of U.K. and European banks supply debit cards to minors, and some provide Visa Electron and Solo cards to children as young as 11 years old.

Peter Cox, managing director of GamCare, feels a joint effort from all parties involved is needed to keep minors from accessing sites.

"There really needs to be an absolute joined up approach to the solution of underage play," Cox said. "Banks and credit/debit card companies must also throw in their committed support to ensure young people literally do not slip through the Net."

John Carr, Internet advisor for the NCH, which is part of the CHIS, said the study shows how far the interactive gaming industry has to come to address underage users.

"It is shocking that children as young as 11 are able to register with online gambling sites," Carr said. "There are no excuses for this. The technology for these companies to clean up their act already exists. But it is being used by a very small number of the operators we surveyed. We urge everybody to install age verification software as a matter of urgency."

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