Updated Feb 13, 2022 - Technology

Online betting comes for kids

Illustration of a bright blue baseball glove catching a red and white playing dice
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of apps and games that simulate sports and casino betting are gaining popularity among children.

Why it matters: The line between gaming and gambling is getting blurrier — and social betting, which involves no real money, can lead kids to the real thing, experts say.

The big picture: "Gambling has become normalized in our society," says Jeff Derevensky, a professor of psychiatry at McGill University and director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors. "We’re seeing a migration and an integration between gaming and gambling."

  • Global downloads of social gambling apps increased from 33 million in 2012 to 1.39 billion in 2020, according to an analysis of Android app data by David Zendle, an expert on the effects of video games and gambling at the University of York.
  • Of the 1,132 "social casino" games analyzed, 1,107 — or nearly 98% — had an age rating of 12+ or lower.
  • Social casino games, which can be played for free through platforms like Facebook and Zynga, let players bet virtual money on games like slots, poker and blackjack.

What's happening: Sports betting is one of the fastest growing parts of the gambling industry, and that trend is reflected in the social betting world.

  • "Younger generations tend to view sports betting as a game of skill, rather than gambling, which has a more negative connotation," says Axios sports editor Kendall Baker. "From TV commercials to in-stadium sportsbooks, betting has fully infiltrated the fan experience for all ages, making it feel mainstream and casual."
  • There are downloadable apps like Omada, BETUP and WagerLab. Some have age restrictions that require users to be 17 or older, but they're easy enough to circumvent, says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
  • There are also sports betting-like games that are marketed directly to kids. The National Football League and Nickelodeon have collaborated on a kids site that has cartoons, NFL trivia, and a feature that lets kids pick winners and get points for selecting correctly.
    • "We have worked (and will continue to) with CBS/Viacom on the elements in and around this game and there is nothing gambling-related or intended," Alex Riethmiller, VP of communications for NFL Media, told Legal Sports Report. ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon.

The stakes: "There’s a massive exposure effect," says Whyte. "There’s a habituation and grooming effect."

Studies have shown that kids who engage in social betting games are likelier to develop gambling problems later in life.

Yes, but: The solution isn't necessarily to do away with these apps, but for parents to be more aware of what their kids are doing, says Timothy Fong, a co-director of the Gambling Studies Program at UCLA.

  • Many of these games are akin to "modern-day Monopoly," he says, and it's possible for kids to enjoy them safely.
  • "This is a new area of parenting," Fong says. "We're always talking about teaching kids about drugs and alcohol. And now parents need to learn about these games and talk to their kids about gambling."

Editor's note: This story originally published on Feb. 10.

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