MPs seek remedy for children gamblers

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The House Human Rights is reviewing legislation to clamp down on Cypriot children’s addiction to gambling, which has become rampant, according to surveys and experts.

Cypriot school kids hold an EU record for gambling, as the island is third for underaged students’ involvement in betting.

According to a 2020 EU-wide survey presented to the committee, Cyprus is ranked third in Europe for students’ involvement in betting; 22% of Cypriot pupils gamble online, while the EU average is 16%.

Offline sports betting is even more popular, with 27% of Cypriot pupils doing it, while the European average is 18%.

It is particularly high for boys (40%) compared to girls (16%). European averages are 26% and 11%, respectively.

The lion’s share in student betting is lottery games, Joker, Lotto and Kino, with 16.6%, while 13.9% bet on football matches.

Additionally, 10.1% played card games and dice and 4.5% engaged in playing slot machines.

MPs heard experts express concerns that the number of addicted children has grown since the survey, as in many cases, they are encouraged by their parents to gamble.

Bingo nights

Experts believe a common practice by parents’ associations to organise Bingo nights to raise money for school needs sends the wrong message.

Executive director of the Cyprus Addictions Authority, Constantinos Stylianou, said they are worrying figures in the latest EU survey regarding minors’ engagement with legal but age-restricted substances, such as alcohol, smoking, and betting.

Stylianou said the authority treats addictive behaviour as a whole, not by substance.

He said there was no interest in the last year for the three rehabilitation programs offered for substance and gambling addictions. He clarified that parents rarely report their child’s addiction.

The National Betting Authority’s Ioanna Fiakkou said it has backlisted and blocked 18,238 gambling websites operating illegally on the internet in 2023 and that training seminars were held for betting companies.

She noted that 12 companies are operating legally on the internet, adding there is an improvement in the know-how of the companies operating.

Commenting on Bingo nights organised by parents’ associations, Fiakkou said the authority is against the practice, finding that it encourages children to gamble.

Acknowledging that there is also a problem with adults addicted to gambling, Fiakkou underlined that authorities are drawing up a national strategy to achieve a long-term reduction of pathological gambling.

Education Ministry officer Elena Papamichael said there are protocols for referring students to treatment centres and that the 1480 hotline set up by the Pedagogical Institute is available to advise parents.

On behalf of Mental Health Services, Doris Kamara highlighted an increase in young people’s involvement in online gambling, as it is more accessible, cheaper, anonymous, free and can be done from home or school.

She argued the COVID pandemic boosted people’s involvement with online gambling as they were confined to their homes for long periods.