A multitude of apps and games that simulate sports and casino betting are gaining popularity among children.
Why is it important: The line between gambling and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred – and social betting, which doesn’t involve real money, can lead kids to the real thing, experts say.
The big picture: “Gambling has become normalized in our society,” says Jeff Derevensky, professor of psychiatry at McGill University. and Director of the International Center for Youth Problem Gambling and Risk Behavior. “We are seeing a migration and integration between games and gambling.”
- Global downloads of social gaming apps have risen from 33 million in 2012 to 1.39 billion in 2020, according to an analysis of Android app data by David Zendle, an expert on the effects of video games and gambling at York University.
- Of the 1,132 “social casinos” games analyzed, 1,107 – or nearly 98% – had an age rating of 12 or younger.
- Social casino games, which can be played for free through platforms like Facebook and Zynga, allow players to wager virtual money on games like slots, poker, and blackjack.
What is happening: Sports betting is one of the fastest growing parts of the gaming industry, and this trend is reflected in the world of social betting.
- “Younger generations tend to think of sports betting as a game of skill, rather than gambling, which has a more negative connotation,” says Kendall Baker, editor-in-chief of Axios. “From TV commercials to sports betting in stadiums, betting has completely infiltrated the fan experience for all ages, making it traditional and casual.”
- There are downloadable apps like Omada, BETUP and WagerLab. Some have age restrictions that require users to be 17 or older, but they’re pretty easy to circumvent, says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
- There are also sports betting type games that are marketed directly to children. The National Football League and Nickelodeon have collaborated on a kids’ site that features cartoons, NFL trivia, and a feature that lets kids pick winners and get points for correct selection.
- “We have worked (and will continue to do so) with CBS/Viacom on the elements in and around this game and there is nothing related or intentional about the game,” said Alex Riethmiller, vice president of communications for NFL Media, to Legal Sports Report. ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon.
Challenges : “There’s a massive exposure effect,” says Whyte. “There is a habituation and grooming effect.”
Studies have shown that children who participate in social betting games are more likely to develop gambling problems later in life.
Yes, but: The solution isn’t necessarily to remove these apps, but for parents to be more aware of what their children are doing, says Timothy Fong, co-director of the Play Studies Program at UCLA.
- Many of these games are akin to “modern Monopoly,” he says, and it’s safe for kids to enjoy.
- “It’s a new area of parenting,” Fong says. “We’re still talking about teaching kids about drugs and alcohol. And now parents need to learn about these games and talk to their kids about the game.”
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on February 10.