This is where you can find out more about gambling – what it is, how it works, the risks, and what to do if you are worried about your own gambling or the gambling of someone close to you.
Gambling is when people risk money or anything of value to predict the outcome of a game involving chance, such as on scratchcards or fruit machines, or by betting with friends. If you predict the outcome correctly, you win money. If you’re wrong, you lose the money you gambled.
In general, the minimum legal age for gambling in the UK is 18 years old. This applies to online gambling, adult gaming centres, betting shops, bingo halls, casinos and racetracks. The minimum legal age to play the National Lottery, including scratchcards, used to be 16, but is rising to 18 in 2021.
“To stake or risk money, or anything of value, on the outcome of something involving chance”
How gambling works
Like with any game, you need to know the rules (including how old you need to be) and understand the concept to have fun safely when gambling. It’s important that anyone playing fully understands what they are doing and knows about our top tips to stay safe.
Here we explain the basic principles of gambling so you can make an informed choice.
01 Your role
The first part of gambling involves choosing what you want to bet on – it could be a certain football team to win a match, or buying a scratchcard. The choice you make is matched to ‘odds’ set by the betting company – such as 5/1 or 2/1, which determine how much money you could get if you win. Often on scratchcards the odds aren’t that obvious.
02 The event
The next part of gambling is the event itself – which could be the football match, or playing the scratchcard. The outcome of the event will be determined, at least in part, by the randomness of chance. Nobody knows for certain what the outcome will be.
03 The outcome
If you’ve won, you’ll be paid back your bet plus any winnings, as determined by the odds. Sometimes for scratchcards you can get different winnings, but if you’ve lost then you don’t get your money back.
Companies make money because they get to choose the odds (and add their ‘cut’ onto each bet). A simple example would be the flip of a coin. The chance of getting ‘heads’ on one flip of a coin is 50%. To represent 50% as odds, it would be described as ‘evens’ – or 1/1.
If a gambling company was offering a bet on a coin flip they would likely offer 10/11 for both heads and tails. That means if you bet £10 on heads and someone else bets £10 on tails, the gambling operator would receive £20 in bets. Whatever the outcome the gambling operator company will only have to pay out a total of £19.09, meaning that they would make a guaranteed 91p each time the coin is flipped.
Gambling companies are a business – they exist to make a profit from gambling; meaning most people lose.
What is spread betting?
With fixed odds betting you know before placing a bet what you stand to win or lose. With sports spread betting you don’t have odds, but instead bet on whether a specific outcome in a sports event will end up being above or below a ‘spread’ offered by a betting firm. So, in football, you might bet on the total number of goals or corners in a match. You usually bet with credit and losing means you are in debt to the betting company, which makes spread betting very risky.
Video games and eSports – is this gambling?
Online gaming and gambling are similar activities, as lots of the same areas of the brain are activated. It’s really interesting stuff! Find out more below.
Loot boxes contain items that will help you advance in the video game, like skins, that players pay to open without knowing what’s inside. While the loot box may contain items that are valuable within the game, there’s a risk they may be worthless. Although buying loot boxes isn’t classed as gambling, the government has concerns that loot boxes might lead to harmful gambling, so the rules on loot boxes may soon change. There are third-party sites for skin betting where the prizes can be bought and sold or gambled for money, even though this is banned by the games’ publishers.
Some of the social games you can play online may involve a game of chance for a prize and may use cards or dice, but they aren’t classed as gambling under UK law. Most people spend only small amounts on social games, but they could lead to riskier gambling.
eSports professionals make money from gaming competitively online and in packed-out arenas. The eSports market has boomed in recent years with more and more viewers watching their favourite games such as CS:GO, FIFA, League of Legends and Fortnite being played by some of the best gamers in the world. In 2020 the global audience for eSports was a massive 436 million, making it very popular to bet on. Although many fans are under the legal age to gamble, around one in five of eSports gamblers are aged 18-24.
Check out our Jargon buster
People use lots of different words and phrases when talking about gambling – from odds and house edge to chasing losses. Check out our Jargon Buster to find out what they all mean.