‘Suddenly it’s cool’: children believe use of influencers in gambling ads make it seem fun

<span>Researchers say children are increasingly concerned that influencer endorsements are encouraging and normalising gambling.</span><span>Photograph: LeoPatrizi/Getty Images</span>
Researchers say children are increasingly concerned that influencer endorsements are encouraging and normalising gambling.Photograph: LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

Children as young as 12 believe celebrities and influencers who are paid to promote gambling are making the practice seem safe, normal, attractive and fun, according to a new study.

The study, funded by the Australian Research Council, heard from children who believed the use of stars like former basketball player Shaquille O’Neal in ads were making their peers more likely to consider gambling.

Related: Victoria’s gambling regulator calls for ad ban after being ‘bombarded’ by worried parents

The researchers, from Deakin, Wollongong and Curtin universities, said the comments from the children surveyed demonstrate the need for strict advertising restrictions to “prevent the next generation from gambling harm”.

The federal government has been considering the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry into online gambling, led by the late Labor MP Peta Murphy, which called for a comprehensive ban on ads and criticised celebrity endorsements.

Many of the 64 children from New South Wales and Victoria who were interviewed for the study, which was published in the journal Health Promotion International, said influencers on social media had young and impressionable audiences.

“Well, if my idol, my favourite YouTuber, Instagrammer, TikToker is gambling maybe I should give it a try,” the 12-year-old boy said.

A 13-year-old girl from New South Wales said influencers were making her peers more inclined to try gambling.

“As soon as they see a famous YouTuber or TikToker or Instagram [identity] … they think that suddenly it’s cool,” the girl said.

A 15-year-old boy said some ads gave the impression that gambling could lead to an improved lifestyle or appearance.

“I think you kind of get shown a bit of their lifestyle and think that if you can win like they are then you can like have that lifestyle that they’re living in the ads,” the boy said.

A 16-year-old girl said the gambling ads were deceptive and misleading.

“They’re acting like … they’re just gambling, but they’re getting paid. It’s all set up for them. It’s not at all like what real gambling is like, so it’s kind of like tricking you into wanting to do it,” the Victorian girl said.

Another 13-year-old girl criticised celebrities for partnering with gambling companies and described the practice as disheartening.

“They’re just thinking about the money that they’re going to earn through doing the ad,” the girl from New South Wales said. “They’re not thinking about the young people that are watching it. So, I don’t really think that they should be participating in these ads.”

Prof Samantha Thomas, a Deakin university academic who was one of the study authors, said the federal government should take the concerns of children quoted in the report seriously.

“It was disheartening to hear young people say they were sceptical about government action because of the gambling industry’s political influence,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ colleague at Deakin, Hannah Pitt, said the study revealed how effective celebrity endorsements were among a younger audience.

“They were concerned that young people would look up to these celebrities and make them believe that gambling was a normal thing to do,” Pitt said.

“They believed this content often only depicted the positives about gambling and weren’t showing the true harms that people could experience.”

• In Australia, Gambling Help Online is available on 1800 858 858. The National Debt Helpline is at 1800 007 007. In the UK, support for problem gambling can be found via the NHS National Problem Gambling Clinic on 020 7381 7722, or GamCare on 0808 8020 133. In the US, call the National Council on Problem Gambling at 800-GAMBLER or text 800GAM.