Close the back door as well as the front door

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Given the huge emphasis put on preventing underage gambling by authorities in recent years, gambling operators have made blocking under-18s from accessing their online gambling sites a top priority.

This has, of course, made it increasingly difficult for underage players to gamble online, but not entirely impossible.

A recent BBC report claimed a 16-year-old boy managed to open an account in his father’s name and lose thousands of pounds. There have been other, similar stories of a child using a parent’s identity in recent years, especially in relation to in-app purchases in games such as FIFA.

In such underage gambling cases, many have argued that parents had a role to play in better supervising their children. But the industry could also go even further in its attempts to prevent children accessing gambling, assuming the goal is to be genuinely responsible rather than simply doing the minimum required. 

The Gambling Commission’s Young People and Gambling Survey 2022 found that almost 1% of those aged 11-16 were classed as problem gamblers, with a further 2.4% determined to be ‘at risk’ gamblers. These numbers are clearly too high when one considers these children should not be gambling in the first place. 

Fighting the fakes

Part of the challenge for online operators is that ID can be faked. The first part of confirming someone’s identity online is to check that the identity is a real one with a valid name, age and address. This can be done fairly easily by using a combination of their financial footprint and public records. These checks have been available for some time through agencies such as Experian and TransUnion.

The second part is to check that the person submitting that identity is the person who owns it, rather than being someone who has ‘borrowed’ it from someone else, as was the case with the 16-year-old boy. 

This can be done by requesting a selfie, which can be compared with the photo in an acceptable ID document. But even this isn’t foolproof because someone could use a photograph of the other person. Given it’s typically a human checking whether there’s a match and that human may be under pressure to perform this task quickly, this might go unnoticed.

Technology allows this to be done in a far more accurate manner using live selfies and facial comparison and is better able to detect fraudulent documents and known fake identities.  

This is one reason we’ve chosen to employ artificial intelligence and machine learning for some parts of our digital ID app. These type of tools can detect whether a photograph is being held up to a camera, as well as the use of latex masks and other spoofing approaches. This means the chances of a child opening an account with a parent’s ID are massively reduced. 

Remote identity verification technology is still in its infancy and while some operators are making use of it, we are a long way from widespread adoption. 

The role of advertising in underage gambling

We also need to consider whether or not children are being adequately protected from gambling ads when online and whether this also plays a role in encouraging them to try and circumvent the rules and gamble with fake IDs.

The Advertising Standards Authority’s recent 100 Children Report found that over a one-week period, 3.8% of the ads displayed on the personal devices used by children were for alcohol, gambling or other age-restricted products. 

Unfortunately, the majority of these were gambling ads, but that’s not to suggest gambling companies were deliberately targeting underage consumers. 

One of the interesting findings of the ASA report was that just 48% of all social media accounts held by 11-17-year-olds were registered with the child’s correct date of birth. Of the rest, 11% falsely suggested the child was over 18.

The data from the survey suggests there is widespread misreporting of true age by children and most the gambling ads shown to underage children were to those who’d incorrectly reported their age or to those visiting sites where more than 75% of the audience was over 18.

The only complete solution to this would be for social media platforms to verify the identity (and thus, the age) of all of their users, but this is something they are opposed to and the UK government so far has made clear it isn’t something it will be forcing them to do.

As with many other things, however, it may be that it is users rather than regulators that bring about a change in social media platforms’ behaviour. 

If enough people are concerned about interacting on platforms where users are unverified, they may migrate towards platforms where they can be sure who they are interacting with. We are now seeing some nascent signs of social media platforms that do estimate age springing up. 

Whether this becomes a bigger trend remains to be seen, but in the meantime, gambling companies must consider using all the tech available to them to make it extremely difficult for anyone under 18 to impersonate an older person and circumvent the regulations.

Philip Young is chief technical officer and co-founder of Arissian, creator of digital identification app Luciditi. Luciditi is a real-time digital identification platform that is used by gambling operators such as Premier Picks to identify customers and store their data.

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