The blurry line between gaming and online gambling

"Free-to-play" games, apps and websites offering simulated gambling can be entertaining. But despite their name they could still cost you time and money1.

Parents should be watchful

Kids who are playing games online are not immune from gambling harm, so parents should keep a watchful eye on the games their children are playing.

Could gaming lead to gambling?

Some games which appear to be for pure entertainment contain hidden pokies simulators that are designed to get you excited about playing pokies.

Games contain "loot boxes" that invite players to take a chance with real money to get in-game goods such as digital weapons or powerful abilities. These rewards are dispensed at random. You might "win" a killer new feature or "lose" with a dud. The delivery of rewards to the players are fan-fared with lights, graphics and sounds - similar to real gambling.

Virtual money disguises what you're really spending.

Buying jewels, jellies, gems or credits makes you less aware of the money you are really spending. Be wary of discounts when you buy larger volumes of credits. Discounts on “in-app purchases” can be misleading because jewels and credits have no material value.

The clock's ticking

Even simulated gambling has risks. While you may not be playing for money you can lose time. The addictive nature of the games can make you wonder where all that time went.

The games are built for addiction

Game developers commonly use principles of psychology to make their game as addictive as possible. Once the reward centres of your brain are activated, many "free" games will then ask you to buy virtual credits or new lives to keep playing or to unlock new features. These "micro-transactions" may seem small but can add up quickly2.

Tips for parents and teachers

  • Be wary of ads that appear in the apps your children are using. These ads may click through to gambling apps3.
  • Turn off the App or Play Store to limit apps accessed by choice or accident.
  • Turn off in-app purchases option so your child can’t access more credits.
  • Show interest in the child’s use of apps and play together.