By Keith Gladdis

Camelot faces accusations of luring children into gambling by selling scratchcards based on games such as Monopoly and Connect 4.

The cards, offering instant jackpots of up to £1million, are often placed in shops at the point where impulse buys such as chewing gum, chocolate bars and children’s sweets are on sale.

The lottery operator places the onus on retailers to decide which customers are under-age.

Lure: The Connect 4 scratchcard could prove too tempting for youngsters

Lure: The Connect 4 scratchcard could prove too tempting for youngsters

But, unlike in other forms of gambling, the minimum age for buying scratchcards is 16 rather than 18. A child of 13 or 14 can easily appear to be 16.

Also, as with cigarettes and alcohol, youngsters can ask an older friend to buy on their behalf.

And children could even pester their parents to buy a scratchcard as a seemingly innocent treat.

In reality, the instant-win games have been condemned as the gambling equivalent of ‘alcopops’ because they can lead on to other forms of betting.

Paddy O’Donnell, Professor of Psychology at the University of Glasgow said: ‘Initially the theme of a scratchcard is very important because it is what first attracts a young person. It’s very much like alcopops – they are packaged in an attractive way to get young people engaged and once they are hooked they switch to other forms of alcohol.

‘Once a child gets the buzz of a scratchcard it can become a gateway into other more serious forms of gambling.’

Popular games: Another scratchcard featured the computer games character Pac-Man

Popular games: Another scratchcard featured the computer games character Pac-Man

Instant-play games such as scratchcards now account for a quarter of all Camelot’s  revenue, which hit £3.26billion for the last six months – up nearly 20 per cent at a time of economic downturn. The Connect 4 scratchcard costs £1 and offers a top prize of £4,444.

More controversially the Monopoly scratchcard offers an instant top prize of £1million for £5.

The company also offers an instant-win online game based on the children’s boardgame Mousetrap which is marketed in toy shops at ages six and above.

It offers prizes of £20,000 for a £1 stake. Online players can also win £15,000 playing snakes and ladders.

In September the Gambling Commission found that 7 per cent of 11 to-15-year-olds claimed to have spent their own money on a scratchcard in the previous week. That was up from 4 per cent in 2008.

The National Lottery Commission vets all themes used by Camelot and is supposed to block those which could appeal to under 16s.

Tempting: Scratchcards can offer prizes in their thousands

Tempting: Scratchcards can offer prizes in their thousands

A spokesman said it felt that scratchcards based on children’s games ‘are much more likely to appeal to adults in a ‘retro’ sense than a modern  14 or 15-year-old who is unlikely to consider a board game ‘cool’.

‘That said, if we discover that a particular game is causing problems, we would take action and ultimately have the power to have games removed from sale,’ he added.

Camelot insists illegal sales of its scratchcards to under-age children are negligible.

The organisation runs a mystery shopping programme, Operation Child, to root  out rogue retailers and removes its sales terminals from those found to be repeatedly at fault.

A spokesman said: ‘There is no evidence to demonstrate that board-game-themed scratchcards are attractive to those under 16. If there was, we would not have launched these games and they would not have been licensed by our regulator, the National Lottery Commission.’