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Youth, finances and gambling

Youth who gamble could use money or other tradable goods. One problem with youth and gambling is the inability to make sound financial decisions due to brain development. Therefore, focusing on finances, budgeting, and gambling,  youth gambling is risky and can lead to gambling related problems beyond money.

Youth and Gambling

Just like any other addiction, gambling addiction is a brain disease. And a brain disease can have an effect on every part of a person’s life.

Gambling involves risking something of value on the chance for a desired result, such as winning something additional of value. Youth gambling is a risky behavior. The explosion of dopamine is similar, if not the same as, the dopamine explosion experienced with the use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. Dopamine is the “happy hormone” that makes a person feel good. Therefore, gambling can be as addictive as any other addictive substance or addictive behavior.

Youth and Money

Many youth have their money budgeted and controlled by their parents. Most youth do not have access to a credit card. This is a good thing because youth are at a point of brain development (before the age of about 25) where they cannot make the best decisions for themselves. Therefore, they don’t make the best decisions about their finances and available money.

It’s difficult for youth to budget their money for future use because their brain is at a stage of development that seeks immediate gratification. For example, if youth receive $50 for their birthday, they will want to go out immediately and buy something like a video game instead of saving it. Therefore, it’s important for parents to have age-appropriate conversations with their youth about budgeting and spending money.

The fact that youth struggle to budget their money makes it even more difficult for youth to manage a credit card. If they have cash in hand, they can see the cash disappear as they spend it. If they have credit on a credit card, they can swipe the card over and over and not realize how much they’ve spent. Additionally, they need to pay back that credit. This could be a difficult concept because in the moment they’re seeking immediate gratification, but maybe unaware in that moment, or even after that, that they will need to have money to pay that credit back. 

Therefore, it is safe to say that youth struggle with budgeting their money, keeping track of what they’ve spent, and being aware of their financial choices. This is additionally problematic when it comes to youth gambling on apps.

Betting Through Gambling Apps

Many gambling apps require credit to exchange dollars for in-game currency. In-game currency can be tokens, or any other digital form of money (which can be based on real currency or completely made up in the app or game). The problem with this exchange is that youth may not be able to keep track of how much they’re spending and unable to keep track of the exchange rate, such as $5 for $100 of in-game credits. How could they, since adults have the same struggle?

Youth, just like adults, will find it very difficult to manage how much they’re spending on in-game currency and, therefore, how much money (dollars) they are spending. These gamblin apps are designed to encourage additional spending and, with this additional spending, the desire to continue using these apps.

Another interesting thing is that not all apps cost money. At least not right away. Many gambling apps offer the opportunity to play for free. While the app is in free mode, it is designed to give players an increased payout. The reason for this, is to give newcomers to these apps the ability to learn how the app works and to start believing they’ll win money if they risk money. What many users of these gambling apps may not know is that the moment they start putting money into these apps, the mode changes from offering more wins on the free mode to offering much less winning, with much smaller payouts if there even is a win, so that the app makes money. Remember, these apps are designed by a business, and a business exist to make money.

Gambling Apps & Video Games

Gambling apps are now mimicking video games. Video games were originally designed for entertainment. That means they were designed for an individual or group to enjoy, and walk away with the same amount of money that they did when they started playing. There was no exchange of money after money was used to pay for the game. It was simply played for entertainment.

Technology is rapidly changing, and the line between gaming and gambling is increasingly blurry. Remember, gaming is intended for entertainment, gambling is any activity that offers a chance to risk something with the hope of getting something more or better.

Just like gambling apps, video games are offering freemium accounts. A freemium account is the ability to play a game for free with the option of paying for in-game valuables. In-game valuables could be in-game currency (as defined above) or in-game items like more land, weapons, additional lives, etc. The game experience changes from free when a player decides to pay money for in-game valuables to improve their gaming experience. This may not seem like gambling but purchasing more lives or better gear to play in the game may or may not improve the game experience. Therefore, they are risking money to purchase in-game valuables with the hope that they will have a better playing experience, but that is a hope and not a guarantee. Hence, gambling.

Although in some games the purchase of items is very direct, not all purchases are as easy to see as gambling. For instance, if someone spends money to purchase a specific weapon to play in the game they’re playing, that doesn’t seem like gambling. Although they are spending money on the chance to have better experience. There are other ways for gamers to improve their gaming experience that are much more directly related to gambling, such as loot boxes.

Betting Through Loot Boxes

Loot boxes are becoming a highlight for discussion because they are becoming more prevalent in video games. Many adults don’t know what they are, and many gamers don’t know that they are a form of gambling. A loop box can look like anything from a pirate‘s treasure chest to an outer space designed looking box. Whatever it looks like, doesn’t matter. Purchasing a loot box is a gambling activity because an individual will be spending actual money or in-game currency on a loot box for the chance to get stuff/equipment for an enhanced gaming experience. This is risking something of value on the chance for their desired result: gambling.

Video Games and Gambling Apps

Another way that gambling is connected to video games is through gambling apps. You may be asking, “how can a video game be connected to a gambling app?“ Many games now offer the opportunity to trade in-game currency/valuables through one app to be used as cash or tokens in a partnering gambling app. This means that there would not be any purchase trail beyond the purchase of an in-game valuable and seen as unrelated to any form of gambling.  Therefore, in this case, youth are choosing to gamble on gambling apps, but parents may be completely unaware that they are engaging in gambling behaviors.

Betting Money on Esports

More obvious forms of gambling can take place during esports competitions. Just to have a baseline on esports, esports do not necessarily need to be video games that mimic sports, like soccer or football. They could be any type of video game, sports or fantasy war games, that can be played competitively. That means an individual can play against another individual, or a team of individuals can play against another team of individuals. This is why they’re called esports. They are playing against one other to find who the winner would be, like traditional sports.

Gambling on esports can be a very clear-cut form of betting money against somebody else on the individual or team that they believe will win. Gambling on esports could be individuals betting in-game valuables from any game that they would hope to win against someone else’s in-game valuables. Or, gambling on esports can take place between the individuals or teams by betting actual money or in-game currency/valuables against their esport competition opponent(s). Finally, individuals can gamble on esports competitions via sports gambling apps like daily fantasy sports or mobile sports betting.

Betting Money on Sports Gambling

Sports gambling is not new to New York State. The increase of availability to gamble on sports and esports is. Legalized Daily fantasy sports and mobile sports betting (MSB) apps opens the door to increased availability of sports betting. Not only may youth have access to available funds to gamble on sports and esports, they are being inundated with advertisements, radio discussions, and TV show experts talking about current team information, brackets and historical statistics. Many advertisements and media are targeting youth focusing on youths’ belief that they know everything, they’re feeling of invincibility that they can’t be beaten, and promoting the social component of making gambling appear a fun, safe activity between friends.

If we review the discussion points of this article so far, it becomes very apparent that youth are at a high disadvantage and much higher risk for gambling problems and/or addiction. These discussion points include:

  • The connection between youths’ inability to make strategic money and budgeting decisions,
  • The difficulty of keeping track of money exchange to in-game currency, 
  • The inability to identify gambling behavior versus gaming for entertainment, 
  • The connection between esports and traditional sports gambling, and
  • The clear-cut connection being made between gaming and gambling companies with an increasingly blurred line separating the two.

Youth-Influencing Adult Action Tips

The number one thing parents and youth influencing adults can do is to listen. Listen to what youth are talking about. Listen to the language and words they use to discuss their behaviors. And look for words that focus money, competition, stress, difficulty between friends or anything else that can allude to a discussion of gambling and gambling related problems.

The second thing that can be done, which will drastically improve the first thing, is to foster and promote an open, respectful relationship between adults and youth. Having this type of relationship allows youth a platform to show excitement and brag about the things that they’re interested. It also allows parents and other youth-influencing adults the opportunity to become a bigger part of a youth‘s life. This kind of relationship is important for everyone involved with special emphasis to help prevent youth gambling.

While focusing this article on youths’ struggle with budgeting and finance, financial literacy can be a huge help. Educating kids about money, the effort it takes to make money, how to budget their money, and where it is best spent is important for youths’ development. It is also very important for youth development when it comes to spending their money on things that can be supportive and health focused, versus activities and items that can be unhealthy decisions that offer minimal to no benefit. Just like anything else, education and awareness can help prevent any poor activity, and, in this case, youth gambling.

Finally, if you believe a youth you know may have a problem with gambling behaviors, please reach out to your local NYS Problem Gambling Resource Center at NYProblemGamblingHELP.org. There, callers are connected immediately to a trained individual who can offer support and direct callers to resources, and, if necessary, options for treatment.

There are many things to look out for as we attempt to guide youth into leading healthier lifestyles. Looking specifically through the lens of this article, we can combat addictive behaviors such as gambling, by improving youth-influencing adults’ knowledge on risks of youth gambling and identifying ways to improve youths’ knowledge and skills to budget and properly spend money on things that enhance their life. If you have any further questions about underage and youth gambling or youth gambling prevention, please reach out to Stelianos Canallatos at [email protected].

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