Is Facebook Turning Your Child Into a GAMBLER? Free Games On Social Media Introduce The Thrills Of Betting, Experts Warn
The rise of online computer games on social media sites could lead to a surge in childhood gambling problems, an expert has warned.They are introducing teenagers to the excitement and rewards of gambling even when they do not involve playing for money.
Games such as Candy Crush Saga – which can be played on Facebook – have a ‘moreishness quality’ which hooks players in.
Meanwhile many social media sites offer chances to play online poker with virtual money.
Cash gambling sites also offer free-play introductory games and because no real money is involved there are no age restrictions.
The problem has been highlighted by Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, who is a world authority on gambling.
He believes that teachers have a vital role to play in ensuring that children understand not only the potential rewards of gambling but also its risks.
Professor Griffiths wants to see gambling and gaming covered on the timetable during personal, social and health education (PSHE). Such lessons could explore the fact that there must always be more losers than winners.
predictors of whether people become gamblers is the playing of gambling-type games on free-play sites.
‘When you start winning, you start thinking that if I was playing with real money, I could be doing quite well.
‘Children who play those free games are more likely to gamble and more likely to develop problem gambling behaviours.
‘These are gateway activities that can lead people down the gambling road.’
Professor Griffiths insists there is a significant overlap between gambling and seemingly innocuous online games.
Many allow players to customise their avatars by spending money on virtual accessories or extra clothing.
He said: ‘It’s a psychological masterstroke that people pay money to buy virtual items. The next step is for gambling firms to say, ‘Maybe you could win back some of the money you’re spending’.’
Candy Crush Saga gives players the option of paying money to access higher levels. It has been downloaded more than 500million times.
Professor Griffiths said: ‘It’s a bit like the old drug-dealing analogy of giving a bit for free and hooking them in.
‘Games like Candy Crush have a moreishness quality, a bit like chocolate. You say you’ll just have one chunk and you end up having the whole lot.
‘So you say, ‘I’ll just play for 15 minutes’ and you end up still there four or five hours later.’
Writing for the Education and Health journal, Professor Griffiths cites a 2011 study of more than 2,700 British secondary school students, which found that 15 per cent had played free gambling games during the week prior to the survey.
One in ten said they had played free games on Facebook.
‘Having studied youth gambling and written two books, I don’t believe gambling games should feature anything that might encourage children or adolescents to gamble,’ he said.
‘Although players have to be aged 18 years to play Bingo Friendzy, research has shown that adolescents regularly bypass the minimum age limits to have a Facebook profile simply by giving false information and/or with the help of their parents.’
King, the company that makes Candy Crush Saga, told the TES that its games were specifically targeted at adult women between the ages of 35 and 50, although the age range of players was currently widening.
It added that it was possible to win the game without paying any money. Currently, 40 per cent of players are paying users.
Gamble Aware, which encourages responsible gambling, said that two per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds had trouble controlling their gambling behaviour.
This is equivalent to 60,000 secondary school pupils in Britain.
A spokesman said: ‘Worryingly, those who begin their gambling careers earlier in life are more likely to be problem gamblers in adulthood.’
Social gaming products such as Candy Crush and Bingo Friendzy are created by third parties and not developed by Facebook. They are hosted on Facebook and other social networking sites.
Facebook said it has tough controls in place to protect under-18s and vulnerable people. This includes users undergoing checks on their identity, age and that they are located in the UK.
The social networking site adheres to UK rules to protect under age people from gambling products. It said that to all intents and purposes these sorts of services do not exist to people aged under 18 on Facebook.