Operators, regulators and technology companies have been urged to act after a study has discovered that nearly 50% of worldwide social media users who engage with esports betting posts on Twitter are under the age if 16, while the majority of tweets flout UK advertising rules.

Research firm, Demos and the University of Bristol’s Department of Management have found that 28% of those who retweet or reply to an esports betting tweet in the UK are under the age of 16 years old. This is five times the percentage of users who regularly engage with posts from the “traditional” bookmakers.

When world-wide engagement is then taken into account, the figure rises to 45% of engagers being under the age of 16.

Also shown in the analysis, 74% of esports tweets and 68% of traditional sports tweets “appeared not to comply with advertising regulations in some way”.

Examples given by researchers included presenting gambling as an income source, encouraging gambling at unsociable times and also showing a person under the age of 25 involved in the gambling advertisement.

a report summary stated: “As most professional esports players are in this age bracket the rules are flouted again and again.”

The report has also urged technology companies and advertisers to work together to make embedding terms and conditions in messaging seamless and recommended the launch of a free, searchable database of gambling advertising on platforms, provided by tech businesses.

The study added that there should be more visible and frequent references to risk, and age restrictions within advertising content, and also, that further research needs to carried out into the types of advertising images, features, themes and techniques which are drawing children to esports betting.

The study, called the ‘Biddable Youth Report’, was published today, after more than 888,000 betting-related tweets were analysed over a nine-month period last year.

Agnes Nairn, a professor from the University of Bristol’s Department of Management and co-author of the report said: “With the massive growth in the esports industry, unless action is taken, we can only expect this figure to rise as sports and gambling seem to be inextricably linked.

“Our in-depth analysis of the content of gambling advertising Tweets leads us to believe that children’s esports gambling is currently under the radar in two ways: it’s online where parents won’t see it and it’s using clever content marketing such as amusing GIFS, memes, pictures and funny stories, designed to appeal to and implicitly influence young people.”

Fellow co-author Josh Smith, a senior researcher at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, added: “We found that high volumes of messages are produced to appeal particularly to children, with thousands of children in the UK following and responding to this content. This report also shows that advertising regulations are being regularly flouted by gambling advertisers online.

“We hope this report serves as a call to action – both to technology companies to make it easier for gambling customers to get a clear picture of what they’re getting into, and to regulators who must continue to ensure that these new actors are compliant with regulation.”