A Closer Look at Social Media and Online Gambling in Teens

Underage mobile gamers have the opportunity to play social casino games using apps like Double Down Casino, Slotomania, and Zynga. A social casino game is free to play and does not offer real money rewards. Still, simulated casino games get children used to rules and habits of gambling, while introducing them to the brands they might use later on.

Teens also visit Twitch and YouTube for video game streamers. These mini-celebrities ostensibly talk about video games, but some of them promote online gambling during their video streams. Parents around the globe wonder whether exposure to free casino games has an effect on their children's behavior. The real question is whether social casino games prepare children for real money gambling later in life.

Adelaide Study of Social Casino Games

We now have an answer to the question. In 2014, Daniel L. King of the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide conducted a study of social gaming habits in young children. King's team released a report called "Adolescent Simulated Gambling via Digital and Social Media", which showed heightened gambling activity for Australian children who make in-app purchases during simulated casino games.

According to the team of researchers in Australia, teenagers who play simulated casino games on social media are more likely to gamble once they become adults. The research teams used different methods and focused on different questions, but the conclusions were similar.

One study focused on 1,287 students in seven secondary schools in Adelaide, Australia. The children studied ranged from the age of 12 to 17. The Adelaide researchers not only surveyed the students, but also examined their behavior regarding electronic media usages and gambling behavior.

The Three Types of Simulated Gambling Studied

  • The testers focused on three types of simulated gambling: 
  • The first were games which simulated casino favorites like Texas Hold'em, blackjack, and roulette.
  • The second involved non-standard gambling simulations - essentially video games like Red Dead Redemption and Fable II: Pub Games that contained simulated gambling as a small percentage of the gameplay.
  • The third type of simulated gambling focused on teenager's reactions to non-interactive gambling material found in a video game. Researchers introduced the players to gambling equipment or other references to a casino setting.

Paying vs. Non-Paying Students

According to the researchers, playing mobile casino games was not the key factor. Instead, the use of in-app purchases was the major predictor of gambling habits. The Adelaide research team found a significant divide in the students who paid for social casino games and those who did not.

While all social casino gaming apps are free, many gaming apps on Android Play or the iTunes App Store allow kids to play in their smartphone with a download. These smartphone games often have in-app purchases. Players can enjoy the game for free, but are encouraged to buy in-app upgrades, advantages, and chip add-ons ranging from $0.99 to $99.99 (or more).

Students who paid for in-app upgrades were 3x to 4x more likely to gamble once they reached adulthood. A teen who played free scratch card games had an 11% chance to visit a casino as an adult, while those who made in-app purchases on scratchies had a 39% chance of gambling behavior as an adult. The same behavior was exhibited across the board, including lottery games, horse betting, sports bets, and card games.

The full breakdown is shown below:

In any category, those who play scratch card games or "scratchies" are most likely to develop gambling habits. Simulated horse bettors who make in-app purchases are about four times more likely to engage in real racebook bets as an adult. Lottery bettors are rarer, but those who pay for more coins are six times more likely to buy lottery tickets when they reach legal age to gamble.
In-App Purchases Correlate with Gambling

Dr. King concluded that in-app purchases during social casino games mimics the use of betting in real money casino games. Teenagers grow accustomed to using cash to enhance their enjoyment of the game. Once those teenagers become adults capable of real money casino gaming, they are more likely to visit an online or land-based casino.

Readers need to remember that 97% to 99% of gamblers exhibit no signs of problem gambling, according to a consensus of gaming researchers and analysts. An increased propensity to gamble does not necessarily lead to gambling addiction. Nevertheless, parents should review their children's habits in social casino gaming and their in-app purchases of gaming apps. Doing so could show them the early signs of compulsive behavior.

About Cliff Spiller:
Cliff has been writing for the casino and gaming industry for the past 15 years. When he’s not cheering on the Dallas Cowboys he is researching and writing about online gaming for recognized sites like OUSC. He studied at the University of North Texas in Denton and loves playing poker, Scrabble, and trivia games.

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