Gambling involves the risk of losing something of value (in most cases money) for the chance of winning a prize (of monetary or some other value). While there are many types of online games, when gambling elements exist within a game the distinction between gaming and gambling is not always clear.  

Gambling-themed games

Some games are principally, or can include elements of, social casino games that heavily simulate a gambling activity, such as poker, slots, blackjack or roulette. They don’t offer the opportunity for your child to bet, win or lose real money, but they include similar actions found in real life gambling and often look and sound the same.

Online games with loot boxes

Some online games include ‘loot’ boxes, ‘bundles’, ‘crates’ and ‘cases’ that a player opens to find what is inside. The player receives an item or items based on random chance, like a lucky dip, where some virtual items could be more valuable than others. Loot boxes can be obtained in two ways: either earned through gameplay (e.g when a player levels up) or they can be bought using in-game currency or real money.

Loot boxes are found in ‘freemium’ games as well as paid games. Under a ‘freemium’ model, your child can access the basic game for free, but might need to purchase credits, keys or in-game items for additional content or to access special features, including the chance to win items in a loot box or crate.  

In-game items can include an in-game currency, equipment, tools, weapons or ‘skins’. Many virtual items in loot boxes are cosmetic only (such as costumes) and are not needed to progress in the game. However, loot boxes in some games can contain items that speed up progress and provide the player with an advantage in the game.

There is some community debate and concern that the loot box feature can normalise spending behaviour in a gaming context and potentially act as a precursor to problem gambling behaviour.

‘Skins’ gambling

Skins are used in some of the most popular games to cosmetically alter a player’s weapon, equipment or avatar and can vary in their value depending on how rare and popular they are. While skins can’t be exchanged for real money within the game, there are third party websites—which are generally not approved by the video game industry—that advertise and offer users the opportunity to gamble these items and convert them to cash. This could potentially be an incentive for young people to spend more on in-game items in the hope of cashing in the rare and popular items at a profit.

What’s the harm?

Games that simulate a gambling activity are easily accessible through mobile apps and social media sites and can expose your child to a realistic gambling experience at a very young age. 

Research into the impacts on young people of gambling-like elements in games and simulated gambling is in its early stages. However, a recent study suggests that for some children, playing social casino games leads to an increase in gambling activity, possibly because these games normalise gambling for them or inflate their confidence of winning in a real gambling scenario. While for other children, it can act as a substitute, reducing their interest in real gambling. 

How do I know if my child has a problem?

The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation lists the following possible signs of problem gambling (associated with online games or otherwise):

  • spending lots of time talking or thinking about gambling or an obsession with simulated gambling apps and games 
  • obsessing about odds when watching sport instead of focusing on the game
  • borrowing or taking money from family and friends (can include using linked accounts for online credit payments)
  • lying or being secretive about gambling activities
  • having mood swings, or stressed when not gambling
  • suffering forms of depression, including isolation from friends
  • skipping school or grades falling due to time spent gambling.

How do I help my child?

Talk to your child about gambling

  • it’s important to help your child understand that gambling features in online games are used to encourage more play and spending, so talk to them about gambling and its consequences both online and in the real world—you can find some helpful conversation starters on the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation website 
  • ensure that any in-game and in-app purchases are first discussed with you so that you know when and why they need to use an account, and how much they are spending

Block your child from credit card access

  • if you think your child might be gambling online, or is about to try it out, make sure they can’t access any accounts you have linked for payment of music, app or game downloads

Use parental controls

  • activate the parental controls that are available on game consoles – find out more at our Parental controls page 

Get your child the support they need

  • if you have concerns about your child and online gambling, then seek professional advice from your GP, a trained psychologist or school counsellor
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 is a free private telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25 years
  • eHeadspace on 1800 650 890 also provides a confidential, free and secure space where young people aged 12 to 25 years, or their families, can chat, email or speak with a qualified youth mental health professional

 What else can I do? 

  • Some games are classified by the Australian Classification Board and can include consumer advice about content in a game or warnings about a game. Gambling-themed games, where a person is unable to win real money but there is a casino-like feel, is given the consumer advice of ‘simulated gambling’. Other relevant consumer advice can include: gambling references and gambling themes. You can search for a specific game on the Australian Classification Board database.
  • Paying real money to access loot boxes is similar to an in-app purchase. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) provides some guidance on in-app purchases, which may be useful to parents with concerns around loot boxes. It includes advice on how to avoid unexpected bills and restrict in-app purchases. It also outlines the action you can take to in relation to a complaint about in-app purchases. You can access more information from the ACCC’s In-app purchases webpage.
  • The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) takes complaints about certain types of interactive gambling services. The Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (the IGA) makes it an offence to provide or advertise certain interactive gambling services to Australians. For more information on the IGA and the ACMA’s role, including what services it can investigate, visit the ACMA’s website. If you find a site that you think is offering or advertising gambling content prohibited by the IGA, you can report it to the ACMA.

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