In the digital era, gambling is no longer limited to casinos but can be found on any of the screens of our many devices. As the lines between gaming and gambling blur and with easy access to online gambling at home, more and more young people are finding themselves in danger of developing compulsive and problem gambling behavior. It’s not only limited to casino-specific games but can also be found in everyday mobile and AAA gaming titles as well.
Owing to its accessibility, many young people, particularly underage ones, are lured into this potentially addictive habit. No doubt, age restrictions are there for a reason. Yet, the exposure to new no deposit bonuses, as seen here, and other tempting perks no doubt need to be further regulated, to decrease an already existing problem amongst youth.
Understanding the Psychological Impact of Early Gambling
Losing money at a young age can be devastating, but it’s the long-lasting psychological effects on young people that can be the worst part of gambling at a young age. During the teen years, young adults are still developing both physically and psychologically. Introducing risky behaviors like gambling can set them up for failure in their adult years.
Developing compulsive gambling habits can take a lifetime of struggle to overcome. In addition, if developed early on, this has an effect on studies, academic achievement, and social growth. All of these factors can significantly harm a young adult’s future. The psychological stress of losing money can also lead to depression and self-harm—and has even been linked to substance abuse in later years.
All of these factors can harm a young adult’s self-growth and ultimately, their place as a functioning member of society if left unchecked.
Video Games & Loot Boxes
As technology advances, so too do entertainment and gaming. In recent years, game developers have faced intensified scrutiny over elements in games that mirror gambling mechanics. This usually comes in the form of loot boxes and microtransactions.
Loot boxes give players randomized in-game items in exchange for real money. This type of mechanism has been linked to the same compulsion loop found in problem gamblers. Since the items are randomized, the players are incentivized to purchase more, hoping to get bigger and better items.
These purchases are microtransactions, or small in-game purchases that can cost anywhere from $1 to $500. Typically, these transactions allow players to get in-game currency or to buy specific items for the game. The inherent danger in this gaming mechanic is that it promotes the gambler’s fallacy, with skewed drop rates for rarer items. While a dollar per transaction doesn’t seem too steep, acquiring specific items in the game will cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars due to the randomized drop rates. This, in turn, can lead to compulsive behavior and out-of-control spending. The same compulsive behavior in gaming closely mirrors that of chronic gamblers.
Governments worldwide now recognize the risk of unregulated loot boxes and microtransactions, especially after so many stories of players losing their life savings in this way. While the EU hasn’t banned loot boxes, they have passed legislation that requires the mandatory disclosure of accurate drop rates for these items.
Epic Games, the developers of the popular game Fortnite, faced legal challenges for failing to disclose these rates in the past. As a result of a class-action lawsuit, the company has since eliminated the randomized aspect of its loot boxes. Loot boxes are still available for purchase, but the items are no longer randomized.
Warning Signs to Look Out For
A study conducted in Auckland, New Zealand studied the effects of gambling on the youth. The study identified specific patterns and similarities among young people who showed tendencies towards problem gambling. Those who responded said that they gambled to relax, to feel better about themselves, or to forget about their problems. All of these responses are key indicators of problem gambling tendencies.
Gambling can be a form of fantasy escapism. The idea of a life-changing big win is hard to resist. However, if gambling ever becomes more than just a fun pastime or recreational activity and turns into an obsession, it can end up ruining lives, especially for the young.
The first line of defense for young adults who may run the risk of problem gambling is always the parents. Time and again, studies have shown that guidance and education from parents and support figures can significantly reduce problem behavior in young adults. Their influence is probably one of the most effective ways to promote healthy behaviors and avoid problem gambling.
The most comprehensive preventative measures to combat underage gambling are a combination of education, oversight, and communication: Educating young people about the dangers of gambling, having an authority figure monitor their online activity, and maintaining open communication about any issues has shown to be an effective preventative measure against problem gambling tendencies.