Children playing online video games are being lured into illegal online gambling, experts have warned.
The Gambling Commission said that parents need to be vigilant to the dangers of youngsters playing online who are enticed into betting on interactive games.
A report found that there has been an increase in the popularity of unregulated third-party websites offering gamers the opportunity to gamble on the outcome of video game tournaments with the lure of in-game items such as decorative digital guns and knives, known as “skins”.
Many of these sites, which a US report has estimated were worth between $3.9bn (£3.2bn) and $5.1bn last year, are illegal.
Last month the Commission carried out a first-of-its-kind prosecution of two men running a website parasitic upon popular FIFA computer games.
Dylan Rigby and Craig Douglas, both of Essex, were fined £174,000 and £97,000 respectively after admitting to being directors of Game Gold Tradings Limited, a company which operated and advertised FutGalaxy.com – an unlicensed gambling website, where children had been found to be gambling.
Gambling Commission chief executive Sarah Harrison said: “Mums and dads could be giving money to a child thinking that they are playing a computer game when in fact they are gambling and this is real worry.
“Gambling on eSports with in-game-items is growing and we need to make sure all gambling is fair, safe, crime-free and protects the young and vulnerable.”
The report found that 8.5 per cent of people have gambled on eSports and 90 per cent of those did so with in-game items.
Ms Harrison added: “These unlicensed websites are a hidden form of gambling – they’re parasites feeding off popular video games, presenting a clear and present danger to players including kids. Our prosecution last month demonstrates that we won’t hesitate to take action.”
Tracey Crouch, Westminster’s Culture, Media and Sport minister, has backed the Commission’s warning.
She said: “It is vital that any form of gambling online is properly regulated and paramount that we protect children and vulnerable people.
“eSports is a phenomenon that gets bigger every day and is enjoyed by millions, but it is a concern that there are unlicensed websites jumping on the back of popular video games and encouraging children to gamble.”