How the gambling industry infiltrates video games

Video games and gambling utilise very similar techniques to ‘hook’ a player to the game. Particularly casual games played on mobile devices feature clear links to gambling. Many other free games advertise online or simulated gambling.

Educate yourself and your children about gambling to avoid problem issues later.

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More research
Video Game Playing and Gambling in Adolescents: Common Risk Factors, Richard T. A. Wood, Rina Gupta, Jeffrey L Derevensky, Mark Griffiths

A taxonomy of gambling and casino games via social media and online technologies, Sally M. Gainsbury, Nerilee Hing, Paul H. Delfabbro, Daniel L King

An investigation of social gaming among land-based and internet gamblers: A comparison of socio-demographic characteristics, gambling and co-morbidities, Sally M. Gainsbury, Alex Russell, Nerilee Hing

Simulated gambling games

Simulated games are those games that offer practice gambling. No money is wagered or won. The player plays with points or virtual coins, not money. Because of this inability to win real money, this simulated gambling is not classified as real gambling. Some popular  games are: Slotomania, Zynga Poker, Doubledown Casino.

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These apps are readily available to children via Facebook or the app store. We know that the younger one gambles, the more likely it is they will end up with a problem behaviour. As yet, no research has been done to find out if the same is valid for simulated gambling.

Practising gambling through these apps makes it look fun, harmless and a normal part of everyday life. And because the odds are set by the developers (in contrast with the physical poker machines) you’re very likely to win and have a great experience playing these games. As such kids get exposed to gambling at very early ages and indoctrinated that it is fun and harmless.

Currently apps are not rated by an independent ratings board (unlike films and big video games) making it very difficult for parents to identify whether apps feature gambling or not.


In-Game Gambling

It is quite common for video games to include gambling as part of their game. This you as a player can engage in games like poker or blackjack. (e.g. The Sims, Grand Theft Auto,…) In other games it may take the form of a poker machine giving the player the ability to win extra items or coins. Sometimes poker machines are built in the actual game so the player needs to play the pokies to progress further into the game.

gambling and video games

Having unmoderated in-game gambling in video games introduces it to children and young people at a very young age. This will desensitise your children and make them believe it is harmless and fun!



Free to play games on mobile devices need to make revenue somehow. One of the ways developers can monetise their work is through advertising. Because video games are largely unsupervised and unregulated the gambling industry has seen it as an opportunity to advertise in games. Many free games that are not generating big profits will feature advertising. The only way to know what the game is advertising to your child is to actually supervise your child whilst playing.



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In-app purchases

The other very successful way of monetising mobile games is to trick people to pay for an in-app purchase to progress in the game or get an advantage over another player. This is famously done by in-app purchases. The video game developers design their game using certain well known techniques that hook the player to the game:

  • Random Reward Schedules
  • Illusion of skill
  • Audio and visual tricks
  • Immediate and easy to play with no complicated rules or strategy
  • Social, competitive nature

These techniques keep the player in ‘the zone’ making it hard to pull away from the game. The game then suddenly prevents you from playing by introducing a level that seems unachievable, or a time limit. The only way to keep playing is to buy an in app purchase. This is an option many players take. Games like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans make approximately 1 million dollar every day through in app purchases.

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