Rhys, photo: Paul Jeffers
New technologies, monetised reward systems and the rise of the ‘professional gamer’ have changed how young people play, watch and spend money on games.
And these same features are bringing online gaming and gambling ever closer.
A 2018 literature review commissioned by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation referenced research that found six out of 22 popular video games in Australia met the criteria for gambling by allowing players to ‘cash out’ their winnings through third-party websites.
Virtual items like ‘skins’ that are acquired in a game can be traded for cash or online gambling credits through these off-shore sites. There is often no verification required for people under 18, who can be hooked by the lure of ‘easy money’ promoted by gamers on YouTube.
‘The evidence is building on the crossover between gaming and gambling and the effect this may have on young people.’
Shane Lucas, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation
‘Loot boxes’ are another area where gaming and gambling are converging. Commonly found in free games, loot boxes are like virtual ‘treasure chests’, where players pay for the chance to win a randomised reward. The outcome is based on chance and the reward may be worth much less than the initial payment to open the box.
‘The evidence is building on the crossover between gaming and gambling and the effect this may have on young people,’ says Foundation chief executive Shane Lucas.
‘The normalisation of gambling through gaming – whether through loot boxes, exposure to gambling advertising or YouTube influencers promoting unrealistic odds – is a particular concern. It makes gambling seem fun and risk-free to young people.
‘We’re worried about what that might mean for their future betting behaviour.’
Putting parents in the driver’s seat
A new program co-designed by the Foundation and the Alannah & Madeline Foundation is helping to equip parents with the skills to help their kids navigate this new gaming environment in a positive way. The partnership combines the Foundation’s expertise in gambling harm prevention with the Alannah & Madeline Foundation’s track record in child cyber-safety.
‘We want parents to feel confident talking to their kids about their online activities, including the risks and potential harms of gambling,’ says Mr Lucas.
Gaming: keep calm and continue parenting was launched in March 2019 by the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Marlene Kairouz, and is being piloted in 12 Victorian secondary schools.
The workshops aim to demystify the gaming world for parents, as well as provide practical tips for dealing with gambling within gaming, in-game bullying and excessive gaming. A key focus is helping parents understand that while gaming can expose young people to adult concepts, there are also many positives.
Ron Cox, whose 17-year-old son Matthew plays League of Legends, has seen the social benefits gaming can bring.
‘Matthew plays a very social game that involves all his friends,’ says Ron. ‘His mates live up to eight kilometres away, so gaming is their way of communicating.’
The workshops aim to demystify the gaming world for parents, as well as provide practical tips for dealing with gambling within gaming, in-game bullying and excessive gaming.
The workshops help parents understand what their kids are playing and encourage them to take an active interest, as Ron does. He also now knows what to watch out for when it comes to his son accessing online gambling sites or racking up expenses through in-game purchases like loot boxes.
‘I do worry about the gambling aspect, but he’s never asked for money or credit card details,’ Ron says. ‘There have been no alarm bells so far.’
Education goes regional
Alongside this pilot program, two organisations in regional Victoria have been teaching people about gaming and gambling through the Foundation’s grant program for prevention projects.
South Gippsland Shire Council identified that its municipality was concerned about online gambling and advertising, as well as the amount of time young people were spending gaming online. Through the Community Champions Go Gambling Free project, the council enlisted gaming expert Steven Dupon to deliver education sessions to both parents and students on the impact of gaming on wellbeing.
According to Gambling Project Officer Heather Butler, it’s been an eye-opener for everyone.
‘Like us when we started this project, parents had no idea that gaming had hidden gambling features,’ she says.
Further north, Bendigo Family and Financial Services is working with young people who receive Centrelink benefits to prevent the potential financial harm from in-game purchases and the normalisation of gambling in gaming.
‘These aspects of gaming pose particular risks for young adults who are dependent on Newstart or Youth Allowance for their income,’ says program manager Rhette Drury. ‘They’re already at risk of losing essential services like accommodation and utilities due to the high cost relative to such low incomes.’
With both gaming and gambling evolving rapidly, the link between these two activities will continue to be a focus of the Foundation’s work.
‘We’re trying to understand and address this emerging issue in a variety of ways, from funding research and on-the-ground prevention programs to working with partners like the Alannah & Madeline Foundation,’ says Mr Lucas.
‘We want to protect young people from gambling harm any way we can.’
Find out more about young people and gambling
The Foundation website has more information about young people and gambling, including tools and tips for talking to teenagers about the issue.
You can also phone Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858 or Gambler's Help Youthline on 1800 262 376 for support and advice.