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Parental factors and young people’s gambling

Main Inside Game_1984x808_Alex Russel

Associate Professor Alex Russell

By Associate Professor Alex Russell

Gambling is often defined as risking something of value, usually money, to win something of value, with the outcome determined at least in part by chance.

Simulated gambling products include some, but not all, elements of gambling. Social casino games, for example, allow the user to pay money to play a gambling-style game, like a slot machine, but not to cash out winnings. Other examples of simulated gambling include loot boxes, demo versions of gambling products, and video games with gambling components, such as Grand Theft Auto.

Simulated gambling products include some, but not all, elements of gambling.

These products are not classified as gambling, although the federal government has proposed an MA15+ or R18+ rating for some of them. However, they do introduce under 18s to how gambling products work and potentially facilitate a transition to traditional gambling. They may set unrealistic expectations because they are not bound by the same regulations as real-world gambling and therefore may give people a false sense of confidence.

Research findings

In our Foundation-funded research, From adolescence to young adulthood: associations between simulated and traditional gambling, and the role of parental factors, we surveyed 1,026 Australians aged 18–25 about their use of simulated and traditional gambling products.

We found that early exposure to gambling is a risk factor for gambling problems.

Participants commonly reported first using simulated gambling products before turning 18, particularly those related to video games, including loot boxes. However, products in which gambling is the core gameplay element, like social casino games and demo games, were more commonly used by people after they had turned 18.

We found that early exposure to gambling is a risk factor for gambling problems.

In contrast, use of traditional gambling products when under 18 was far less common, but there was a large jump in participation in all traditional gambling activities at age 18.

Engagement in simulated gambling related to video games, such as loot boxes and video games with gambling content, tended to precede most forms of traditional gambling. However, on average, social casino games and demo games were more common once a person had taken part in real-world gambling activities, such as lotteries, scratch cards, pokies and sports betting.

In other words, simulated forms that most closely resemble traditional gambling activities appear to be more popular once a person has participated in gambling, although this is not the case for all people. Simulated gambling products are also associated with gambling harm, and may represent a particular risk for vulnerable people.

The role of the parent/child bond

The research also looked at parent/child relationships and how this relates to gambling, finding that parents are key facilitators of gambling amongst adolescents. The role of parents was found to be a key risk factor for gambling and simulated gambling amongst young people as well as incidence of gambling harm.

We considered participant perceptions regarding their parents’ approval of, and participation in, gambling activities. The findings were that parents perceived to approve of simulated gambling were more likely to be perceived to approve of traditional gambling, and to be perceived to be taking part in both.

… parents are key facilitators of gambling amongst adolescents.

Our research also defined the relationship between the participants, as adolescents, and their parents, in categories such as ‘connected’, ‘involved’ and ‘hostile’.

Hostile parent–adolescent relationships were defined by negativity, criticism or conflict, not necessarily physical hostility. Such relationships predicted participation in both simulated and traditional gambling forms, potentially because adolescents could use them to escape.

Hostility was also associated with gaming and gambling problems, although more research is required because the causal direction is unclear. An adolescent may gamble to cope with a hostile relationship, or a relationship may be hostile because the adolescent takes part in gambling against a parent’s wishes.

… game developers should consider incorporating mechanisms into their products to minimise harm …

The findings demonstrate the important role played by parents in shaping their children’s behaviour into young adulthood. Education programs for parents could help them understand the risks associated with these products and how their own actions may influence their children.

The research provides evidence that game developers should consider incorporating mechanisms into their products to minimise harm, such as spending limits, helpline details, self-exclusion and responsible marketing.

There is also a case for regulators to more closely inspect some simulated gambling forms, particularly loot boxes, social casino games and demo games and to use existing frameworks, such as the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering, to identify harm minimisation measures that developers should be required to implement.

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