Controversial Industry Targets Children
A trove of apps and games that simulate casino and sports betting are becoming vastly popular with children.
Experts say that the line between gaming and gambling is getting thinner, and social betting, which doesn’t involve real money, can easily lead kids to the real thing.
“Gambling has become normalized in our society,” said Jeff Derevensky, a professor of psychiatry at McGill University and director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors.
“We’re seeing a migration and an integration between gaming and gambling.”
According to an analysis of app data by David Zendle, an expert on the effects of video games and gambling at the University of York, global downloads of so-called social gambling apps increased from 33 million in 2012 to 1.39 billion in 2020.
Out of all 1,132 “social casino” games analyzed, 1,107 — almost 98% — had an age rating of 12+ or lower.
Social casino games let players bet virtual money on slots, poker, blackjack, etc.
But just as sports betting is becoming more popular among adults, it’s also growing in the social betting world.
“Younger generations tend to view sports betting as a game of skill, rather than gambling, which has a more negative connotation,” said Kendall Baker, Axios sports editor.
“From TV commercials to in-stadium sportsbooks, betting has fully infiltrated the fan experience for all ages, making it feel mainstream and casual.”
There are even sports betting games aimed directly at kids.
The National Football League and Nickelodeon have collaborated on a kids site that has cartoons, NFL trivia, and a feature that lets kids pick winners and get points for selecting correctly.
“We have worked (and will continue to) with CBS/Viacom on the elements in and around this game and there is nothing gambling-related or intended,” said Alex Riethmiller, VP of communications for NFL Media.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says there are significant risks.
“There’s a massive exposure effect,” Whyte said. “There’s a habituation and grooming effect.”
But some experts say that the solution isn’t necessarily to do away with the apps; it’s up the parents to be more aware of what their children are doing, says Timothy Fong, a co-director of the Gambling Studies Program at UCLA.
“This is a new area of parenting,” Fong said.
“We’re always talking about teaching kids about drugs and alcohol. And now parents need to learn about these games and talk to their kids about gambling.”