By Guest columnist, cleveland.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The holidays are a time for fun and games. Unfortunately, many gifts on a child’s holiday wish list could have unexpected consequences down the road.
Lottery tickets, online gaming, and augmented reality are among the top selling items this holiday season. For adults, these gifts can be a fun way to enjoy time with friends and family. For kids, these gifts can be the beginning of a gambling problem.
Gambling triggers the release of a brain chemical that provides short-term satisfaction. Over time, the brain develops a tolerance to that chemical. The wins feel smaller. The urge to keep gambling gets bigger. A child’s brain isn’t fully developed; so, this cycle is easier for a child to get into and harder to stop.
Here’s the problem: Some of the most popular holiday gifts can lead kids into this cycle, and adults have no idea it’s happening.
Lottery tickets aren’t child’s play.
The National Council on Problem Gambling believes 10% to 14% of adolescents are at-risk for developing a problem with gambling. A study from the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors at McGill University found early gambling experiences, including with lottery tickets, are a risk factor for later gambling problems.
This is one of the reasons why the Ohio Lottery strongly encourages that lottery tickets not be given as stocking stuffers to people under 18 years old.
Many young people say their first gambling experience occurred between the ages of 9 and 11 years old. Gambling in childhood is frequently some kind of lottery product, given through lack of awareness by a well-meaning adult.
What about online gaming?
The Entertainment Software Association found more than 220 million Americans played a video game in 2021. For many, it can occur responsibly. Still, the National Council on Problem Gambling is working with the Federal Trade Commission to study loot boxes, a common reward tactic in social gaming popular in games youth play. Loot boxes impact the brain the same way a slot machine does. Let’s be honest:
- Would you let your child play the slots for two consecutive hours?
- Do you even know if that game you bought has loot boxes?
- Do you know every game on your child’s device?
Multiplayer augmented reality (AR) is different from virtual reality in that AR doesn’t require headgear or goggles, making it more affordable and accessible to players. Since AR gambling might feel more authentic to players, they could believe they’re just playing a simple video game rather than playing a real game with real money.
There’s also no “pause in play” because AR only accepts digital payments; this makes it much easier to make more frequent and larger wagers.
Online gaming and AR also have advanced data tracking that allows AI-based algorithms to target young people and players with gambling problems.
It’s easy for something fun to turn into something formidable without a parent even knowing what just happened.
This is why Ohio for Responsible Gambling created a program called Change the Game. Change the Game raises awareness of the realities of youth gambling and connects parents, educators and children to the resources available for prevention and treatment.
Change the Game isn’t just working to prevent future gambling problems among our youth, we’re working to help those who are being affected right now.
The holidays should be fun, and there are online and AR games that can be safely played in moderation. Know what you’re buying and gift responsibly this holiday season. Together, we can help prevent youth gambling. For more information on how you can be a part of the solution, visit ChangeTheGameOhio.org.
Amanda Blackford is the director of Problem Gambling Services for the Ohio Casino Control Commission. She oversees the Commission’s responsible gambling efforts, including the Voluntary Exclusion Program that permits individuals to self-exclude from entering a casino facility and the problem gambling plans implemented at each of Ohio’s four casinos. She also collaborates with the Commission’s partners in Ohio for Responsible Gambling to promote comprehensive education, prevention and treatment programs across the state.
Karen Russo is the Deputy Director of the Office of Responsible Gambling for the Ohio Lottery and serves as the Lottery’s Problem Gambling Advocate, ensuring best practices in corporate social responsibility. She is also a board member of the National Problem Gambling Council.
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