Video Game Gambling

Easy no-download video poker! Jacks or Better, Bonus, Double Double, Deuces, Joker Poker, total of 17 variations plus perfect play trainer. The legal age of gambling in most U.S. States is 18 for lottery-type games, and 21 years for casino-type games (including slot machines, video poker, and sit-down card games). By rating the majority of gambling-related games “E” for everyone, ERSB is basically saying that it is okay for youth of any age to gamble.

According to a 2018 report by Digital Australia, 97% of Australian households with children have at least one device for playing video games. More than 60% of households have five or more devices.

Since the early 2000s, the boom in mobile technology has seen the spread of video games from desktop PCs to the pockets of young people everywhere. But with that spread has come new hazards, in the form of online social gambling.

Read more: 'Loot boxes' and pay-to-win features in digital games look a lot like gambling

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Gambling games are mostly rated ‘PG’ or ‘G’

Gambling via mobile devices or mobile games has remained largely unregulated in Australia. In a 2012 study of more than 100 video games featuring gambling simulations, 69 of them were rated PG (8+) and 33 of them were rated G (for a general audience) by the Australian regulator.

In other words, no gambling games received any age restrictions.

The Australian Classification Board, the body charged with rating games, consistently underrates games that feature gambling, despite the potential risk they pose to children.

Part of the explanation comes down to the way games are classified. In Australia, video games classifications are based on six criteria: themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.

Read more: Social casino games can help – or harm – problem gamblers

Gambling comes under the first broad category of “themes” and is generally classified according to the presence of gambling, gambling references or gambling themes. Coin master free coins and spins app.

Game developers use the classification system to their advantage by skirting the edges of what is considered an acceptable “presence of gambling”. Gambling video games tend to fall into three broad categories in this regard: actual online casinos, social gambling games (which can use real money, but can also be played for free) and games that use gambling techniques.

The latter type, including games such as Candy Crush, use techniques similar to a slot machine, but do not actually look like a casino. The other types often explicitly look like a casino. Regardless, they still receive a G rating.

Risks for children

When children and teenagers play simulated gambling games (featuring either real money or fake money), they are more likely to grow up and gamble with real money. One study found that almost 30% of adolescents who played simulated poker went on to play real poker with real money later in life.

Some companies claim that games can have gambling techniques, with no risk to children, so long as there is no real money involved. However, even if gambling games are ostensibly “free” to play, they pose a risk to young people by making them more susceptible to gambling mechanics, psychological tricks and addiction.

To put it simply, when a young person reaches age 18 and finally enters a casino having previously played social gambling games, they will be more susceptible to real gambling and psychological addiction, because they will be primed for it.

Gaming classifications are out of step

The low classification of gambling games in Australia is out of line with the broader laws on gambling.

In all states, there are strict laws on who can enter a casino and who can gamble, with every state imposing age restrictions roughly correlating with adulthood. If these general laws were imposed on gambling games, they would receive a classification of R (18+) – the highest possible rating – rather than G (for a general audience).

Since 2013, Australia has had an R (18+) category for games. At the time of its introduction, it was argued that the adult rating would empower the classification agency, and stop kids from having access to games that could potentially harm them. It would appear that that has not occurred with regards to gambling games.

Despite recent statements by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation that some video game mechanics can “constitute gambling”, not much has changed regarding the law in Victoria or any other state. Victorian officials state that they can do very little when a gaming company or product is based overseas.

However, it is unclear why the regulator, the Australian Classification Board, cannot put higher ratings on gambling games sold in Australia, in Australian stores or on Australian websites.

The benefits of gaming

Video games do not have to be addictive or feature gambling mechanics to be fun or to make money. Many of the most successful video games today feature no gambling mechanics at all. Some are actually good for you because they help develop creativity, keep an active brain or teach new skills.

Read more: The business of addiction: how the video gaming industry is evolving to be like the casino industry

The rise of gamification, or the use of games for serious purposes, has led to a variety of games that assist educators, the government and private companies in creating interactive learning experiences.

It is unfortunate that some video gaming companies continue to develop gambling and anti-social video games, when the power of video games as a positive medium for change is just starting to develop.

Without further action by the regulator, it is up to the states to determine whether online gambling video games should remain out of line with the general laws concerning gambling and age restrictions in Australia.

There’s been a lot of recent conversation in the media about a new video game, Star Wars Battlefront II, and its use of “loot boxes” and concerns about gambling (not to mention “pay to win”). Let’s explore the issues & some concerns.

  1. What is a “loot box”?

Video Game Gambling Addiction

In video games, there are opportunities to purchase virtual items to help people with their game progress/strategy; these opportunities are generally referred to as “micro-transactions.” They can occur in free-to-play (“freemium”) mobile games, PC games, and console games. The “loot boxes” are essentially mystery crates – a user pays to purchase a crate and the contents are unknown to them. They could be very rare and valuable contents, or the contents could be relatively useless.

Image: Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot box contents (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7O5lesHCOY)

  1. Why are loot boxes are a concern?

Purchasing a loot box is essentially gambling; the element of chance is key, as users are paying to purchase an unknown reward (The American Psychological Association defines gambling as “Risking something of value in the hopes of obtaining something of greater value” — DSM-5, 2013). Since primary audiences for many video games are youth, the concern is that these games are promoting gambling, which is ordinarily illegal for youth, to underage players. Additionally, people in recovery for problem gambling issues and those who have other addiction issues are vulnerable.

  1. What’s being done, and what can be done?

Video Game Gambling Machine

Currently, two state representatives from Hawaii are crafting a bill to ban the sales of games that offer loot boxes (like Battlefront II). They are encouraging people from other states to contact their legislators and the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. (See: https://wccftech.com/hawaii-state-rep-loot-boxes-gambling/.)

Key quote: “I think the mechanism is so close to gambling, when we talk about psychology and the way addiction and reward works, I think whether or not it means the strict definition of gambling, it’s close enough and the impact is close enough.” – Rep. Sean Quinlan, Hawaii

Most kids can play poker, blackjack, and other casino games, and fantasy sports on whatever device they use for gaming. Some games even offer them the ability to play for real money. And many of these games are rated “E” for everyone.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) is in charge of rating video games for age appropriateness. The board rates games based upon many “content descriptors,” including language, mature humor, tobacco references, gambling references, and many more descriptors (click here for ESRB’s full list).

Video Game Gambling Sites

Many of even the gambling-related games are rated “E” for everyone, despite “simulated gambling” being a descriptor in the ratings system for “T” for teen games. The legal age of gambling in most U.S. states is 18 for lottery-type games, and 21 years for casino-type games (including slot machines, video poker, and sit-down card games).

So…what’s the big deal?

This is a major concern for people concerned about youth gambling, since young people have more than twice the rate of problem gambling than adults. Research shows that four to eight percent of adolescents already have a problem with gambling, and an additional 10-15 percent are at risk for developing a severe gambling problem. A major concern with young people is that gambling problems are
relatively easy to hide, and visible consequences may not appear until well into adulthood. Lawmakers are starting to consider this as impetus for prohibiting the use of loot boxes in video games. Aside from these issues, many gamers are frustrated by the concept of loot boxes and the idea that people can “pay to win,” vs. earning their place by grinding.

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What can I do?

  • Talk with young people in your lives. Know that, just like with alcohol and drugs, the greater accessibility and availability of gambling has been found to relate to increased rates of problem gambling. Video games and the Internet provide the easiest possible accessibility and availability to gamble, and there is a definite lack of supervision on the Internet in terms of verifying legal ages to gamble.
  • Limit youth from gambling. Know that earlier an individual begins to gamble, the more at risk he or she is of developing a gambling problem later in life. A search of ESRB-rated games with the words “poker,” “blackjack,” or ‘slots” in the title revealed a total of 91 games, 73 (80%) of which were rated “E” for everyone, five (5.5%) rated “T” for teen, and only seven games (7.7%) rated “M” for mature. The legal age of gambling in most U.S. states is 18 for lottery-type games, and 21 years for casino-type games (including slot machines, video poker, and sit-down card games). By rating the majority of gambling-related games “E” for everyone, ERSB is basically saying that it is okay for youth of any age to gamble.
  • Monitor the games. Games that are rated “E” (everyone) to even “T” (teen) send a message that playing gambling-type games (even without the ability to play with real money) that gambling is harmless, and the games themselves convey the message that gambling is cool, fun, and it is easy to win. ESRB is sending a false message to parents, educators, and peers that these games are innocuous.
  • Watch for signs. Electronic forms of gambling are well known to be the most “addictive” and contribute to the greatest, fastest development of gambling problems. Most people who enter into treatment for gambling problems report some form of video gambling as their preferred way to gamble. The combination of being able to 1) play alone, 2) for long periods of time, and 3) with intermittent rewards, creates the conditions for high risk of the development of gambling problems.

Recommendations for ESRB

Feedback to the Entertainment Software Rating Board can be given at http://www.esrb.org/consumer_online_hotline.asp. Here are some talking points to consider:

  1. Rate all gambling-related games, whether they offer real or simulated gambling, “M” for mature or “A” for adult.
  2. For any game that offers connection to real gambling over the Internet, provide clear warning about the potential risks and harms of gambling, in addition to providing a resource of how to seek help for gambling problems.
  3. Prohibit the use of microtransactions that offer any element of chance (e.g., loot boxes).

Video Game Gambling Addiction

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