Our Chief Executive Lee Willows writes an opinion piece The Times newspaper and calls for the Government to support education as part of the Gambling Act Review. Education has an important role to play in gambling harm prevention.

The world has changed since the Gambling Act was passed in 2005 and like many other industries, the rapid innovation of technology has revolutionised gambling in the United Kingdom and globally. Outdated laws are incompatible with the tablet and smartphone era and the current Gambling Act review presents a much needed opportunity for the regulation to catch up and for the UK to set standards for the world to follow.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will scrutinise all aspects of regulation and I do not claim to have the expertise to contribute to most of these intricate policy decisions. However, I do know that regardless of any legislative changes, the need to educate and safeguard our future generations on the potential harms is more important than ever.

Our young generations are now growing up entwined in the digital world, meaning they are always only a few clicks away from the online galaxy of gaming and gambling. I believe we have a responsibility to educate young people about the risks of gambling, just as we do on public health matters such as alcohol and drugs. The level of gambling advertising in the UK has transformed these businesses into household brands so I would suggest it is naive to think that young people are unaware of gambling.

At the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM), we believe every young person should have at least one awareness session on gambling harms as part of their PSHE curriculum during their school years. It is critical we inform their understanding and reduce their vulnerability for when they reach the legal age to gamble.

It should be acknowledged that the majority of people can enjoy a bet and gamble safely, but gambling addiction does not discriminate. Sadly, I know from personal experience how gambling addiction can devastate lives, ruin careers and destroy relationships. My own addiction took my mental health to the brink of suicide so I will always feel extremely fortunate for my recovery journey.

The complete lack of awareness or youth education programmes motivated me and my co-founders to establish YGAM six years ago. At the charity, we work with teachers, parents, charities, universities and health professionals to help safeguard young people. Our team engage with the education sector daily and we are constantly listening to the needs of teachers, practitioners and young people throughout the country. It is very clear from these conversations that educational professionals need this support more than ever. The lockdown has intensified the demand for our resources with increased screen time and growing concerns over some elements of video gaming, which carry gambling-like mechanisms such as loot boxes.

We must continue to be guided by professionals working in the education sector to deliver effective prevention programmes to young people. It is encouraging to see gambling now featured on the PSHE curriculum in England, however, we believe it should be a compulsory session for young people during secondary education. It is views like these that we have adopted through first-hand experience that we are currently sharing during our continuing engagement with members of parliament.

Gambling addiction is complex, which is why it can be so dangerous if misunderstood. In turn, the current public perception towards gambling addiction seems far less compassionate compared with attitudes towards alcohol and drug addiction. We must explain the links between gambling harm and poor mental health and raise awareness of the support that is available. The government should use this process to stay ahead of any linked potential online harms and put education at the heart of prevention.

The team at YGAM looks forward to engaging with the government, parliamentarians and other stakeholders to share insight on the impactful work of our charity but also what more can be done. A collaborative approach is most effective, with the impact informing the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. One thing is clear, education is essential to safeguard our future generations.

Lee Willows, Founder & Chief Executive, YGAM

Read the piece on The Times website here