Video Games Make It Easy for Kids to Gamble

| February 5, 2013

Most kids can play poker, blackjack, and other casino games on their PlayStations or Nintendo DS. Some games even offer them the ability to hop online to play for real money.  And most of these games are rated “E” for everyone.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) is in charge of rating video games for age appropriateness.  The board rates games based upon many “content descriptors”, including language, mature humor, tobacco references, gambling references, and many more
descriptors (click here for ESRB’s full list).

A search of ESRB-rated games with the words “poker,” “blackjack,” or ‘slots” in the title revealed a total of 91 games, 73 (80%) of which were rated “E” for everyone, five (5.5%) rated “T” for teen, and only seven games (7.7%) rated “M” for mature. The legal age of gambling in most U.S. states is 18 for lottery-type games, and 21 years for casino-type games (including slot machines, video poker, and sit-down card games).

In a nutshell: kids can gamble, very easily.

But what’s the big deal?

This is a major concern for people concerned about youth gambling, since young people have more than twice the rate of problem gambling than adults.  Research shows that four to eight percent of adolescents already have a problem with gambling, and an additional 10-15 percent are at risk for developing a severe gambling problem.   A major concern with young people is that gambling problems are
relatively easy to hide, and visible consequences may not appear until well into adulthood.

What can I do?

Start by writing a complaint to the Entertainment Software Rating Board at this address  http://www.esrb.org/consumer_online_hotline.asp.  Here are some talking points to consider adding to your letter:

  • Just like with alcohol and drugs, the greater accessibility and availability of gambling has been found to relate to increased rates of problem gambling.  Video games and the Internet provide the easiest possible accessibility and availability to gamble, and there is a definite lack of supervision on the Internet in terms of verifying legal ages to gamble.
  • Research shows that the earlier an individual begins to gamble, the more at risk he or she is of developing a gambling problem later in life.  A search of ESRB-rated games with the words “poker,” “blackjack,” or ‘slots” in the title revealed a total of 91 games, 73 (80%) of which were rated “E” for everyone, five (5.5%) rated “T” for teen, and only seven games (7.7%) rated “M” for mature. The legal age of gambling in most U.S. states is 18 for lottery-type games, and 21 years for casino-type games (including slot machines, video poker, and sit-down card games).  By rating the majority of gambling-related games “E” for everyone, ERSB is basically saying that it is okay for youth of any age to gamble.
  • Games that are rated “E” (everyone) to even “T” (teen) send a message that playing gambling-type games (even without the ability to play with real money) that gambling is harmless, and the games themselves convey the message that gambling is cool, fun, and it is easy to win. ESRB is sending a false message to parents, educators, and peers that these games are innocuous.
  • Electronic forms of gambling are well known to be the most “addictive” and contribute to the greatest, fastest development of gambling problems. Most people who enter into treatment for gambling problems report some form of video gambling as their preferred way to gamble.  The combination of being able to 1) play alone, 2) for long periods of time, and 3) with intermittent rewards, creates the conditions for high risk of the development of gambling problems.

What can we ask that the ESRB do?

Here are a couple of potential solutions. In your complaint, ask them to implement the following remedies:

  1. Rate all gambling-related games, whether they offer real or simulated gambling, “M” for mature or “A” for adult.
  2. For any game that offers connection to real gambling over the Internet, provide clear warning about the potential risks and harms of gambling, in addition to providing a resource of how to seek help for gambling problems.

Another good question to ask ESRB: what are its processes for determining ratings based upon its “Content Descriptors” (e.g., “gaming,” ‘simulated gambling,” “real gambling”)?  particularly since many games with the term “real gambling” are rated “E.”

Other ideas, questions or comments?  Please contact us.

Category: Problem Gambling

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