Kids & Problem Gambling: Do Online Games and Mobile Apps Lead to Gambling Addiction? Posted On

Games to win. Shiny coins to earn. Fun music in the background.

Does that sound like video game playing to you? Or does it sound like popular forms of gambling?

Conversation about online games, mobile applications and the dangers of problem gambling are occurring more frequently, as people discuss whether or not these games make children more prone to becoming problem gamblers as they get older.

Are kids spending too much time (and even real money) on games like Candy Crush? When they say they love it and they joke about being “addicted” to it, are they really becoming at-risk for addiction, and more likely to try other forms of gaming – including ones that require bets and exchanges of money?

Studies have shown that the younger a child is introduced to gambling, the more likely he or she will become a problem gambler.

Steve Sharman, PhD student at the University of Cambridge, was quoted in The Guardian’s article “This is what Candy Crush Saga does to your brain.”

“The illusion of control is a crucial element in the maintenance of gambling addiction … [as it] instills a feeling of skill or control,” he says. “There are a number of in-game features [such as the boosters in Candy Crush] that allow players to believe they are affecting the outcome of the game, and in some cases they are, but those instances are rare.”

More mobile games are available every day – often available for free. There is significant concern that kids and adults may switch from these mobile apps and online games to gambling opportunities, which are also available online and accessible from both desktops and mobile phones.

In fact, kids may switch from animal, candy and other fantasy-themed games to ones they’ve seen adults around them play online and in-person, or that they’ve seen on television. They might choose to play poker or virtual slot machines – and liking to play as a young child puts them more at risk for excessive playing as a teenager and adult.

What You Can Do To Protect Your Child From Gambling Addiction

There are a number of ways you can help your child steer clear of becoming at-risk to problem gambling.

  • Educate your child about problem gambling. Teach them about its existence, its dangers and its consequences. Talk to your children about how people become addicted to games of chance, and how that can cause people to play until it’s dangerous to their health and relationships.  Finally, teach them about how these online games might just seem like fun but that they should tell you or another adult if they are beginning to feel bothered when they aren’t able to play. DontBetYet.com,  an online resource provided by the New York Council on Problem Gambling, provides additional ways to teach your kids. Educate them about problem gambling with DontBetYet’s cartoons, storybooks and worksheets, and encourage them to share what they’ve learned with their friends.
  • Limit your child’s access to online games. Though you may choose not to eliminate access completely, limit the time your child has access to these games, and monitor all online game playing of your child. Ensure no money is being spent by the child, and make sure your child continues to prioritize healthy activities and responsibilities.
  • Monitor for problem gambling’s warning signs. Educate yourself about gambling addiction’s warning signs, and look for changes in your child’s attitude or behavior. Though your child may not be gambling, they may be similarly addicted to their online games. Do not allow online games to become a stepping stone to real gambling activities.

Together, we can help keep kids safe from problem gambling. It all starts by educating kids and adults about its existence, causes and risks. Together, we can make sure “harmless” games don’t cause addictions with lifelong consequences.