The gambling watchdog has urged people to “sit up and listen” after a study suggested the number of children classed as having a gambling problem has quadrupled to more than 50,000 in just two years.
Research by the Gambling Commission suggests there could be a further 70,000 children aged 11 to 16 who are at risk of developing problems.
The Commission suggests more children placed a bet in the past week than drank alcohol, smoked or took drugs.
The warning came as children are using more conventional means as well as using new technologies to gamble.
70,000 children at risk
The report was based on an Ipsos Mori study of 2,865 11 to 16-year-olds carried out between February and July.
The children were asked nine questions including how often in the last year they thought about gambling and if they had ever taken money without permission to gamble.
The results suggested 1.7% of the children were problem gamblers, equivalent to 55,000 youngsters.
In addition, the study suggested 2.2% if the children were at risk of developing problems, representing around 70,000 children.
The study found the most common routes into gambling were fruit machines in pubs or arcades and cash bets with friends.
Some admitted going to betting shops or using online sites, despites them being illegal for under-18s.
The analysis also indicated that one in seven boys followed betting brands on social media.
'What an absolute joke'
Adam Bradford, a Gambling Regulation Campaigner described the situation as a “joke”, adding that campaigners have been pointing out the problems “for years”.
Mr Bradford told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer: “What an absolute joke to wake up and see this report.
“We have been calling this out for years and talking about how the Government was short-sighted in 2005.
“They were short-sighted again last year when they just put a heavy focus on these fixed betting terminals.
“It is not just about these terminals, it is about the way that adverts are making gambling normal.”
The Government has recently u-turned on a decision to delay a cut in stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Machines, which will now take place in April 2019.
Last week, more than 70 MPs had tabled amendments to Government business to force it to cut the maximum stake from £100 to £2 in April next year as originally planned.
At the end of October, Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed that the cut to the stake would be pushed back until October 2019.
The move led to the resignation of Sports Minister Tracey Crouch on November 1.