Casino-Based Mobile Games Raise Concerns for Australian Youths
The current laws of Australia allow for online gambling by the adult population. However, it seems that the producers of such content have found a way to bypass the laws and essentially present online gaming to all ages. Developers can claim it is not gambling all they want, since there are no real-money chips or winnings involved, but the fact is, teenagers are spending money to play online slots and virtual poker machines just like those who play for real money.
Australian Senator Nick Xenophon was outraged when recent reports revealed that a “free”? virtual poker machine was the highest grossing mobile gaming app in the nation. Because it is free to download and play, and doesn’t offer any real-money winnings, it falls within a small loophole in legislation that makes it legal. However, players who run out of chips before they are eligible to receive more “free chips”? have the option of using real money to buy more.
The mobile gaming app, developed by Playtika, a subsidiary of Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation, offers vast literature in its terms and conditions that relate the game’s intent of being played by those age 21 and over. When launching the app, however, a message asks anyone aged 13-18 to get their parents’ permission before playing. A simple tap of the screen grants permission and makes the games accessible.
Playtika’s Slotomania app grossed the highest revenue in 2012 in the iTunes app store in Australia, with two other slots games making the top-20 list. Knowing how accessible these games are to the nation’s youth, Senator Xenophon, as well as a host of industry experts and gambling critics, are determined to revise Australian law so that games of this nature are not so readily available to anyone below legal gambling age.
The primary concern is not that young adults are spending money to play these “non-gambling”? games, but that they are being molded into future gamblers. The Commonwealth’s interactive gaming laws have been in place since 2001, and a games developer’s ability to present mobile apps in such a manner to those who are not old enough to legally gamble ““ as gambling is defined by the nation’s legislation ““ is a loophole that Xenophon and his supporters feel must be addressed and eliminated the moment Parliament resumes.
“The government has sat on its hands on this, when it was warned over a year ago,”? said Xenophon, referencing an amendment proposed to the interactive gambling laws in June of 2011. “It is laughable to say it’s not gambling because you can’t take your winnings out, even though you can lose buckets of money.”?
Charles Livingstone, a public health expert from Monash University, agrees with the senator. He said that exposure to gambling at a young age, especially in men, is a huge risk factor towards the development of a future gambling problem. He also addressed the issue of how accessible these games are. “The possibility that young people can gain access to parental or other credit cards or payment systems extends the risk of harm significantly.”?
Slotomania is not just available as a mobile gaming app. It can also be played on the universally popular social network, Facebook.
It’s no surprise that local gambling establishments, like Club Australia, are voicing similar opposition. The last thing they want is heavy competition supplied in such a convenient manner. But they do make a good point.
The Executive Manager of Club Australia, Josh Landis, said, “All a 15-year-old has to do is click a button and they can gamble on the internet, on Facebook or even on their mobile phone.”? He explained that current technology does not provide sufficient safeguards to thwart underage gambling, as found in a brick-and-mortar club.
A review of the current interactive gaming laws has been under evaluation since the Interactive Gambling and Broadcasting Amendment Bill was drafted and introduced in June of 2011. The conduct of gambling-style games (i.e. those that aren’t officially gambling, but present an unsafe false-gambling environment) is included in the bill, according to Kim Carr, Australia’s Acting Communications Minister. Nothing has taken place since the bill’s introduction, but Senator Xenophon is urging Parliament to take more serious note of the review and act with utmost alacrity when the committee reconvenes in February.