Amongst the most hotly debated topics in the UK gambling industry currently relate to players in the 18 to 24 age bracket. As a result, understanding the motivations of this generation has become a pressing matter.
The attitudes and behaviours of this demographic, which makes up around 10% of UK gamblers, have wide-reaching implications for regulators, casinos, advertisers and other players.
The latest data
Coinciding with the publication of the government’s Gambling Reform White Paper, which aims to bolster protective measures for younger gamblers, various new studies and statistics have surfaced offering an insight into the motivations, behaviours and preferences of Gen Z (generally considered to be born between 1997 and 2012).
According to a late 2023 report by YouGov's Oliver Rowe, younger players are less likely to gamble for the fun of it than their older counterparts.
The stats suggest that younger players are more likely to be motivated by competitiveness, the opportunity to communicate with other players, odds which appear favourable, and games with higher levels of risk.
Also, Gambling Commission studies report that large numbers of younger players said they gambled because they felt they stood a good chance of coming out on top.
Just as the motives of young players differ from those of older groups, so too do their behaviours.
Although around 1 in 10 British gamblers are aged 18 to 24, this age group makes up 28% of players who stake more than £500 each month, clearly suggesting an inclination towards high-stakes betting.
This age group was found to be much less likely to engage in sports betting, scratchcards and the lottery. Contrarily, they appear to engage in more fantasy sports betting than older players.
Another favourite amongst younger players is esports betting, which makes sense considering the rise of competitive gaming in recent years.
In terms of what people look for in a casino, young players were most concerned with competitive odds and an easy-to-use interface – in line with the preferences of players in most age groups.
However, younger players were more likely to prioritise variety in game selection when choosing a casino.
Whilst Gen Zedders appreciate traditional slots, they also appear to want to venture beyond. There’s a focus on searching for fresh games with engaging mechanics, easy playability on mobiles, the opportunity for interacting with other players and games which offer a gripping, high-quality, fast-paced experience.
Research into the attitudes of younger players has revealed a number of interesting contradictions. Unexpectedly, the stats appear to paint a picture of a thrill-seeking, risk-taking demographic with eyes on the big prizes – not something we anticipated from this group.
Gen Z is generally considered to be relatively risk-averse and health-conscious, and have largely eschewed traditional vices, such as tobacco and alcohol, in favour of vapes and coconut water.
Also, despite making up 10% of UK gamblers, it was found that 21% of younger people believe gambling should be made illegal. This figure was slightly more than double that of older players (10%) and aligns with the socially-conscious characteristic of Generation Z, but not with the risk-taking behaviours revealed in the data.
Many Gen Zedders are evidently conscientious with a strong ethical bent, perhaps more than any generation before them. Still, despite this, many appear to be thrill-seekers at heart.
With young people making up a substantial proportion of UK gamblers, and noted as being especially vulnerable due to their age, discussions have turned to how they can best be shielded.
One mechanism employed to protect potentially vulnerable younger people is a ban on under-25s featuring in gambling advertisements in such a way as to appeal to those just a few years either side of 18. One media company recently fell foul of the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) for featuring a 24-year-old footballer in a gambling advert on Instagram.
Operators and advertisers are aware that younger markets are most effectively reached through new channels and platforms, as well as by using methods such as increased gamification and community. Therefore, other measures are likely to be put into place in the near future, including more stringent stake limits for online slots, and marketers facing increased restrictions when targeting this age group.
An era of over-regulation?
Perhaps the fact that the data regarding younger gamblers is so full of contradictions is symptomatic of the heavily opinionated age we’re living in.
The UKGC knows that if it were to take legislation too far, it would run the risk of disrupting and devaluing the industry – or worse. Consequently, the downsides to strict, borderline draconian, regulation must be taken into account, including the possibility that some players may feel isolated or oppressed.
It may also be the case that, rather than ham-fisted banning all adverts related to gambling, as some have proposed, a responsible advertising campaign could be put in place. By considering the content and delivery of gambling advertisements through careful targeting and respect for individuals, advertising may become a tool to be harnessed and utilised for good, rather than the object of fear.
By taking a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation, or simply ‘cancelling’ everything which has the potential to offend, we run the risk of inadvertently punishing those who are perfectly capable of gambling responsibly.
Evidently, there is more research to be done and a balance to be struck.