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Gambling & Video Games


Back in 2019 I highlighted the potential harms children could experience when introduced to gambling practices through video games. Unfortunately little has changed since then in Ireland, despite rising problem gambling prevalence rates among the student population*. Early introduction to gambling, whether through gaming or some other source, is a significant risk factor in developing gambling disorder. But legislating** to protect children from this particular harm is not currently a priority so if you have young gamers in your house, as I do, here’s a few things to watch out for and avoid in video games. 


These offer a game of chance within a video game as you do not know at the time of purchase what you are buying. A popular example is a card pack in FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode. With proven links to compulsive spending and problematic gambling^, some European countries^^ only allow their inclusion in 18s games. Watch out for PEGI or store warning labels for In Game Purchases that Include Random Items so that you can avoid or at least control spending. 


A number of popular action-adventure games allow gamers to engage in gambling using virtual currencies, either purchased or earned. A good example is Grand Theft Auto’s Diamond Casino. Some games even feature learning prompts for those unfamiliar with casino games.  


Sports betting is a huge industry and using a prediction app, you may be able to bet on sports events, using virtual currency. Omada – Predict the results, for example, encourages you to place daily bets on the outcome of upcoming soccer matches in the different leagues using virtual coins. This is sure to appeal to soccer mad kids, like my own, who are still too young to sign up for a betting app but can learn how it’s done.  


Be wary of games listed as free-to-play that rely on pay-to-win purchases, which entice children to spend in game. Also a lot of puzzle apps and matching apps feature gambling mechanics, like wheels of fortune, bingo and slot machines, as a way of selecting items, characters or actions. This increases excitement, making these games more addictive to play and can normalise gambling concepts.   


These mobile apps allow you to familiarise yourself with popular casino games like poker, blackjack, roulette, and slots. You bet with purchased virtual currency but they are usually rated 12 because you can not convert winnings back into real world currency.

There is a wide range of age ratings for the games and apps that I have referenced from 18s to 4+/PEGI 3, but age assurance is not a requirement to access them. By building gambling tasks into games that are accessible and appealing to children we could be setting them up for addiction in later life, when they can legally move on to mobile betting apps. So if you do have young gamers in your house, then try to reduce risk by avoiding certain games or certain in-game purchases as highlighted above. 




* Listen in to hear research findings from a recent study of third level undergraduate students across 5 campuses.–Episode-11—Interview-with-Stephen-Cashman-Student-Gambling-enc0pd

** Two upcoming bills – Online Safety and Media Regulation and Gambling Control – do not currently address. 

^  This is one of many studies that examines the effect of paid loot boxes

^^Belgium, the Netherlands and most recently Germany are the first European countries to regulate loot boxes as gambling. China and Japan also regulate in this area.

Posted on:

Nov 24, 2021


Olwyn Beresford (Guest Blogger)

Olwyn Beresford holds a degree in Computer Science and a MBA and worked in the software industry for many years. As a mother of teens and tweens she has experienced firsthand the challenges that parents face in keeping children safe online and wants to contribute to education in this area. She has a particular interest in reducing gaming and gambling related harms, and volunteers for the charity Extern Problem Gambling Project and is a regular guest blogger for CyberSafeIreland about gaming. Olwyn is now also one of our CyberSafeIreland trainers, delivering to both schools and parents since August 2020.