The number of children betting regularly in the UK has quadrupled to 450,000, according to a new study out by the UK Gambling Commission. Alarmingly, the amount of children ages 11-16 with a gambling problem has now climbed to 55,000, according to the report. In fact, more children said they had placed a bet in the past week than drank alcohol, smoked or taken drugs.
This is deeply troubling. But it also points to the need for society, and those who have a stake in the gambling industry, to double down on efforts to bring fairness and safety to the core of what we do. Banning gambling outright is not the solution. Given the relevance of the internet to our lives, outlawing the industry would banish it to the corners of the dark web. With this comes a plethora of unregulated dangers, which we would not be able to monitor, control or address.
However, those deeply invested in the internet and in the free market must carve out a more proactive role in managing personal data and preventing its misuse. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said last week, “I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation.” We would side with that, and push the debate further to advocate that the tech industry must embrace new regulations. As tech experts, we must play a role in helping to shape regulation which works for all parties: the industry, the consumer and the government.
The Need for Age Verification
Keeping children off gambling sites begins with responsible parenting. The report also stated that 6 percent of children ages 11-16 had gambled online using a parent or guardian’s account. Undoubtedly, age verification needs to be implemented, but no system can stop a child who gains access to a parent’s login information, or is allowed to wager using a parent’s account, unless that account is made available to the minor.
While age verification may not be fool-proof, it does serve as a critical hurdle that can prevent some underage gambling. This is why we felt strongly that we needed to contribute to the UK Gambling Commission’s consultation which looks into proposed changes to the UK Gambling Commission’s licence conditions and codes of practice.
ID Verification is No Longer Sufficient
The best way to impose age verification is to first require online identity verification checks before any online account is established. This approach is typically performed by requiring a government-issued ID (e.g., a UK driver’s license and a selfie). After the ID document is deemed to be authentic, the age can be extracted from the ID to determine if the user is of legal age.
Unfortunately, government-issued IDs can be purchased on the dark web or stolen outright so ID verification, by itself, is no longer sufficient. Operators need to ensure that the person behind the account is the actual owner of that ID. More and more operators now require the player to take a selfie using their smartphone. The image on the selfie is then compared to the picture on the ID document to ensure that the person creating the online account is whom they claim to be — creating a near-watertight means of barring underage players (and fraudsters) from unauthorised gambling.
Taking it One Step Further
Liveness detection is another step in the journey to sealing the authenticity of ID. Jumio includes liveness detection to ensure that users are physically present during the age and identity verification process. While online scammers are increasingly using spoofing attacks to acquire someone else’s privileges or access rights, this is an important element for age verification too. Liveness spoofing can be done in various ways, including typical examples such as using a photo, a video playback, a mask, or even just mimicking a voice. Best practices suggest that gaming operators need to evolve beyond simple age verification to robust online identity verification. This is done with biometric-based liveness detection that scans a 3D face with a standard 2D camera (built into most smartphones) to ensure the real user is present. It’s the best solution we have at present.
The Road Ahead
The UK Gambling Commission has a rare opportunity to adopt proven biometric-powered identification and age verification to empower betting companies, casinos and their sportsbooks, to reliably and securely determine whether the player is who they say they are. Not only does it help protect the operator’s ecosystems from fraud and bad actors, but it also shuts out minors.
To this end, strong identity and age verification represents a legitimate scenario for the Commission, the operators and the players. Let those of us devoted to reducing fraud in gambling take to heart this winning combination to promote and protect what’s good and right.