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Last Updated: Monday, 26 July, 2004, 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK
Schoolgirl tests online gambling
An investigation co-ordinated by children's and gambling charities has exposed how easy it is for under-18s to gamble online.

London schoolgirl Ruby Carr, 16, was asked to log on to 37 popular gambling websites and was able to open accounts with 30 of them. She tells BBC News Online about her shock at the results.

Ruby Carr at Glastonbury
Ruby went from muddy Glastonbury to an investigation into gambling
Like most 16-year-olds I had just finished my GCSEs and had already had the most exciting start to the summer with a trip to the Glastonbury Festival with 10 of my mates.

When I got home I had nothing planned, just looking out for my next summer adventure. Then my dad asked whether I would like to do something to help him out.

My dad John works with NCH, a child welfare organisation, and he offers advice on various issues to do with the internet.

If there are seven sites that can detect that I'm under age, there's no reason why they all can't
Ruby Carr

Ever since we've had a home computer, he has always given us lots of useful advice on online safety. He's definitely more clued-up than most parents.

He told me about the concerns NCH had about children being able to access and use gambling websites without any checks on their age and that he wanted me to go with him to the Gamcare offices in south London and try to register on a number of websites.

I was pleased he chose me and intrigued at what the outcome would be.

Gamcare offers support and counselling to people with gambling addictions.

National Lottery
I was given a list of 37 websites to log on to. I was told to be dead honest about everything, except my age. For that, I suddenly had to play the part of a 21-year-old. That's a lot easier to do from an anonymous computer keyboard than it would be in real life.

Every single website did ask my age. For some of them, I had to give my date of birth but there were plenty of others where I just had to tick a box to verify that I was over 18.

That was a bit shocking. Just think, if you only had to tick a box to buy alcohol, get into nightclubs, see adult movies or marry without your parents' consent, then teenage Britain would be a very different place.

By the end of the experiment, I had been able to register on 30 out of the 37 websites, everything from sites for high street bookmakers, to casino sites, to other sites where I couldn't even begin to understand the games - but knew it would cost me to find out.

Pop-up adverts

I didn't know much about gambling before the experiment and I was quite shocked at how many ways gamblers can lose their money.

It was very noticeable that the sites were quite appealing with lots of flashing lights. They're obviously very well-designed to make lots of money. I could see how some people would find it quite intriguing.

When you use the internet, even as a teenager, you get bombarded with pop-up adverts for gambling websites, so it would be very easy to be attracted towards them - although I'm happy to say that I just see gambling as a huge waste of money and have never been tempted.

In all, there were seven sites which wouldn't let me register.

One was because it didn't accept my Solo card. Others sent e-mails saying that they hadn't been able to find me on the electoral roll. And one site said I would only be able to register if I could produce a driving licence as proof of age.

Some people might say that the sites would get round this problem if they only allowed people to register using credit cards, rather than debit cards which you can have from the age of 11.

But I disagree - some adults can't afford to use credit cards and it would be wrong if websites started restricting what they can and cannot do.

Make a difference

I also feel strongly that under-18s should not be banned from having debit cards. I've had my Solo card account with the NatWest since I was 11.

It is very convenient having a card to withdraw money when you want because it encourages you to put your spare money in the bank until you need it. I like being able to go shopping without having to take lots of cash with me.

Those are not the right solutions to this problem. If there are seven sites that can detect that I'm under age, there's no reason why they all can't.

I'm really pleased that I got the chance to get involved in the investigation. It's a lot more productive than anything else I would have been doing straight after my GCSEs and I'm hoping it can make a difference.

Like most of my friends, I use my computer unsupervised in my bedroom and I think I've shown how easy it is for children to start gambling online and lose all their money without their parents even being aware of it. I think that's quite wrong.

Ruby Carr was talking to BBC News Online's John Hand

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