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Gambling is rife among 17-year-olds, says report 'delayed' by charity's merger with gaming industry group 11/03/2012
Daniel Boffey
Study finds a third of older teenagers have made a bet in last year and almost one in 10 could be at risk of problem gambling

Gambling is rife among older teenagers, with a third having made a bet in the last year and nearly one in 10 at risk of becoming addicted, according to leaked research seen by the Observer.

The research links problem gambling with attention deficit disorder, drinking and poverty, and finds it to be particularly prevalent among boys. It was commissioned at a cost of £114,000 by the independent charity the Responsible Gambling Fund (RGF) three years ago and was completed in December, but never published. A final copy was due to publicised in January and be published on the charity's website last month.

However, plans to make the paper public were halted after the charity's board was replaced by leading figures from the gambling industry, including the chief executives of Praesepe, a slot machine and sports betting firm, and the Remote Gambling Association, a trade body for internet gaming companies. The replacement of the board was the first step towards the merger of the RGF with the Great Foundation, a gambling industry-run body which collects money from major firms for research. The RGF and the Great Foundation were both set up in 2009 as a result of a government review into the industry and it is understood ministers have authorised the merger which is set to be finalised next month.

But an industry source said as a result of the changes the new research, entitled "Gambling behaviour in adolescents aged 17 years", had been sidelined. He said: "Clearly what that research says would be worrying for the gambling industry." The source added:"This research has been properly researched, it has been peer reviewed. Undertakings were given to the government that there would be a proper independent mechanism as far as research was concerned and there wouldn't be any interference by the gambling industry, and the first thing that happens is that this piece of research is shunted into the sidings."

Professor Geof Rayner, a government public health adviser with expertise in gambling, said a charity run by people in the gambling industry should not be trusted to monitor the industry's harmful impact on the young. He said: "What nobody wants to talk about [is] the general growing impact of the gambling environment which is increasingly seen as normal and fun and how it is extending This new body is under the control of the gambling industry. to children. This is industry-run. How can we trust such an organisation?"

The research was compiled at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Health, in Bristol, and is based on interviews with 3,750 17-year-olds.

While the vast majority did not have a gambling problem, a third of the young boys and girls said they had gambled in the last year,. The most common forms of betting were buying national lottery tickets (27%), private betting (21%), and buying scratch-cards (20%) followed by playing fruit machines (17%) and betting on dog races (9%).

The research found 9% gambled weekly, while 26% of those who have gambled in the last year were regarded as being "at risk" of problem gambling, defined as being preoccupied with gambling, committing anti-social illegal acts in order to finance their habit or falling out with family or friends over it. The study also found that key "background characteristics" associated with regular gambling were "male gender, lower maternal social class, lower level of maternal education, the family living in rented accommodation and whether a partner lives at home". It added: "Binge drinking, daily cigarette smoking and high sensation seeking scores were independently associated with regular gambling".

Marc Etches, a former consultant to gambling companies who has been appointed chief executive of the new body formed by the merger, said the publication of the research had been delayed by the reorganisation, which he claimed would be more cost effective than the previous arrangement.

He said: "It is very dangerous in any scenario to take something out of context and unless you apply the full context then the danger is things are misinterpreted and misinformed."

He added: "I started in the job on 1 February. We have a whole range of different projects, some have been finished, some have nearly been finished, some are going to be ongoing.

"This is a piece of work that was indeed finished. I have no understanding as to what people thought would or wouldn't be published or what published actually means. But the trustees, who commission a piece of work, certainly need the opportunity to look at that piece of work. Now this happens to have come when we are in transition in the middle of merging."

He said: "There is absolutely nothing untoward. The picture that you painted of something that has arrived … [and been] put it away in a cupboard [is] completely erroneous." The new charity would have an equal split of gambling industry and independent trustees.
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