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Gambling with their future: teenage gamers and pathways to gambling

Main Inside Game_1984x808Teenage game

Young people gaming

By Lisa Clausen

New analysis by the Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC) has revealed troubling links between playing simulated gambling games as a teenager and moving into real money gambling as a young adult.

Findings from their 2022 study What is the link between video gaming and gambling? were discussed by AGRC manager Dr Rebecca Jenkinson and Research Fellow Dr Kei Sakata at a recent Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation webinar.

As community alarm grows about gambling devices appearing in video games aimed at young Australians, this research set out to explore the links between gaming among adolescents – with a particular focus on simulated gambling experiences – and their gambling as young adults.

Social casino games … [make] a child’s ‘wins’ more frequent and larger ...

It found that one in five young Australians played simulated gambling games, such as social casino games, when they were 16 and 17, with boys more likely (24 per cent) to play them than girls (15 per cent).

Social casino games in particular are designed to normalise and encourage gambling by making a child’s ‘wins’ more frequent and larger than those in real money gambling.

‘What we found is that adolescents who played simulated gambling games were more likely to engage in monetary gambling as adults – for any gambling [it is] around 40 percentage points higher probability,’ said Dr Sakata.

A treasure trove of insights

The research drew on data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Children in Australia (LSAC), a groundbreaking study which has tracked the development of 10,000 children and their families since 2003.

LSAC surveys these participants every two years on a range of development and wellbeing indicators from childhood through to early adulthood.

Using sophisticated statistical modelling, Dr Sakata’s team used LSAC data to uncover evidence of a causal link between simulated gambling games and real money gambling.

… having parents who gamble is a risk factor …

Other key findings include:

  • at 16–17 years, two per cent of young people are classified as being at risk of, or experiencing, gambling harm. By ages 18–19, that figure jumps to nine per cent – equivalent to around 54,000 young Australians
  • while young people who play simulated gambling games are more likely to progress to real money gambling as young adults, teens who play video games daily are not necessarily more likely to gamble as young adults
  • having parents who gamble is a risk factor, as are higher levels of alcohol use.

Mounting evidence of harm

The past decade has seen monetisation of video games accelerate, with features such as loot boxes, in-game purchases that offer advantages or upgrades, and simulated gambling games now common.

Complementing Dr Sakata’s LSAC research, the AGRC team’s review last year of 67 international studies published over the past decade highlights some of the challenges ahead.

The past decade has seen monetisation of video games accelerate…

‘We found in the literature that these products – the loot boxes, the simulated gambling games and other in-game purchases – were all associated with at-risk or problem gambling, with growing evidence of an association with internet gaming disorder and other impacts on health and wellbeing,’ explained Dr Jenkinson.

The harm increases as a player progresses from viewing to opening and then to purchasing products such as loot boxes.

‘What we’re really interested in – and Kei has already begun doing this work – is looking at how engagement with these products and experience of harm might change over time.’

Filling in the gaps

With calls from many parents, researchers and treatment providers for urgent action to cut adolescents’ exposure to gambling-style gaming, the team hopes its research will help drive community education and national regulatory reform.

Ongoing research to fully understand the casual links between gaming, gambling and gambling harm must be a priority, said Dr Jenkinson, alongside a focus on:

  • assessing the possible role of protective factors, such as family support, in preventing gambling harm
  • investigating how personality traits may make a young adult more likely to gamble
  • evaluating a range of mitigation strategies being trialled internationally.

‘We really hope our research can inform not only the classification and regulation of different types of video games and in-game purchases, but also the development of tailored and targeted health promotion messages about the potential harms,’ she said.

You can read more about research into gambling and gaming here.

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