Gamblification: the dangers of online gaming for kids

Gaming and gambling used to have clearly defined lines – you’d go to the local casino or RSL, maybe play the pokies, hopefully pick up a bit of extra cash if you were lucky and head home after a few hours. Or you might have spent half an hour a night playing solitaire on the computer to relax before bedtime. 

The online world is a completely different place for our children in 2016 – it’s moving fast, some say too fast, and it’s nearly impossible for parents to keep up. According to recent research by the Australian Communication and Media Authority, teenagers are spending more than five hours every day on digital media activities.

Gaming ecosystems in this online space are exploding and preying on vulnerable users – usually children – with apps designed to groom and exploit kids, and most importantly, to make money.

Gamblification is the new buzz word being used by experts in the cyber safety field to describe the coming together of social media and gambling. In the offline world there are strict laws and regulations around gambling and gaming (including competitions), but the online space lacks regulatory oversight and public/parental supervision, resulting in a fast growing and highly lucrative industry which is grooming children for a lifetime of gambling without understanding the inherent dangers.

The question of lack of regulation was recently summed up by Tim Levy, Managing Director at Family Zone and dad of two – “When and where can these products be advertised and with what conditions and disclosures? These are well worn issues considered by politicians and regulators over many decades.”

The SA Government funded Australian Council on Children and the Media keeps a watch list on gaming apps which specifically target children. Whilst not exhaustive, the list currently features 76 apps, with some recognisable names such as Disney, Sonic Dash (by Sega) and The Simpsons. It tells us that it’s not just teenagers who are at risk, but all children even those under three.

Apps typically range from games with chance and virtual prizes, to online casinos where you can risk stakes for bigger wins with the ability to share via social media when you win a jackpot. Whilst the majority of these games are free to download, Australian’s are spending millions every year on in-app purchases. 

Jordan Foster, clinical psychologist at ySafe Solutions and cyber expert with Family Zone:

“Casino-style social media gambling apps are grooming children under 13 with inflated odds and excitement. These apps are flying under the radar of regulators and parents and are nurturing a generation of problem gamblers and skewing expectations to easy money.”


There are a lot of different types of apps out there, so we’ve put together this quick reference guide to help keep your kids safe online:

Standard gambling games

These are fairly common and simulate casino games, most often slot machines. Generally something of value is placed at risk in the hope of a reward, and are largely a game of chance though some might require a degree of knowledge or skill. They have their own virtual currency which players use to gamble with, if they run out of currency a simple in app purchase will give them more so they can keep gambling. Social media is a big part of the success of these games, so players can share with their friends to entice them in.

Examples of these games include Slotomania (a simulated pokie machine app) and Heart of Vegas, another simulated pokie machine app. Over the past three months Australians spent $12.1 million through in app purchases of virtual currency alone, with single purchases ranging anywhere from a couple of dollars to USD$49.99.

Social gambling games

These apps which include poker, blackjack and bingo, let you bet against other players using virtual currency. If you run out of your virtual money, you can get some more through an easy in app purchase using real money. This is another style of game which also encourages players to share and promote in social media, to encourage their friends to join them in the game. The most popular app in this category is Texas Holdem Poker, which netted the creators Zynga a cool $417,300 in the past three months alone from additional poker chip purchases which can cost up to $159.99.

Undercover or embedded gambling games

These are the sneakiest ones of all, especially for susceptible kids who just want to keep playing their free game. They don’t look like they have any gambling elements at all, the game is free to play, however it requires an in-app purchase to “win” prizes. The hugely popular (and addictive) Candy Crush falls under this category, as does Grand Theft Auto which encourages the player to visit a casino mid game to gamble with virtual currency.


It’s really not easy to keep up with every new game out there and this is the first generation of parents who are raising children who are more digitally and socially savvy than they are. Whilst there are a number of tools on the market, the team of Cyber Experts at Family Zone continue to conduct extensive research on all platforms in use by kids today and keep up with the latest trends. This means that if you’ve installed the Family Zone app from the  App Store or Google Play, parents will get notified if or when their kids try to access one of these gaming apps and provide them with support and advice on how to manage it. 

Topics: Cyber Safety, kids games, kids gambling, gaming apps, gambling apps, online gambling, Cyber Experts, online gaming

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