The increasing convergence of gaming and gambling was increasing the potential for gambling harm. Many video games and apps encourage children to spend real or virtual money to open loot boxes, digital grab bags that may include skins (costumes for characters) and weapons.
“Games are exposing young children to gambling at a much earlier age. And parents are the biggest enablers,” she said. “These games which mimic real gambling are potentially gateways to traditional gambling for young people,” Ms Wright said.
Of those young people who gambled, the report found 3.7 per cent were classified as at-risk or problem gamblers.
It found parents and advertising were the two key factors influencing young people to gamble.
Nearly 54 per cent of those gambling with money were doing so with a parent or a guardian, and 20 per cent with grandparents. About 58 per cent of those who gambled came from homes where adults did so too.
The most common way young people accessed online gambling was by using a parent’s account with their permission, the survey found. Parents often gave children money specifically to gamble.
Increased exposure to advertising was also associated with increased problem gambling, with about 46 per cent of young people reporting that they had noticed ads on television at least weekly during sports and racing broadcasts.
The NSW Youth Gambling Study 2020 by CQUniversity also found children were gambling or playing games with these kinds of components from 11 to 12 years.
The report recommended more education of parents and young people on the dangers of gambling, and improved age and ID verification to prevent underage gamblers. It also called on regulators to examine ways to reduce the gambling components in online games and encouraged parents to examine the games their children are playing.
Reverend Tim Costello, chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said the loot boxes in many games were “acting as a gateway to gambling”.
About two-thirds of young people said they had opened or purchased a loot box in the last year, and another study found a third of young people had spent about $10 a month on them.
“There are also serious risks of young people accessing gambling apps and becoming addicted in their youth, or their brains effectively rewiring towards gambling behaviour that will worsen the more they gamble,” he said.
Like the tobacco industry in the past, Rev Costello said the gambling industry was targeting young people to “get them hooked on gambling as early as possible, making it appear to be a normal part of life”.
“That’s why they spend millions on advertising and sponsorship of family-friendly sports such as the AFL. They want kids to think gambling is a normal part of sport.”
Ms Wright said the office was working on partnerships to reduce these advertisements at sporting matches as part of the Reclaim the Game initiative.
Jacob Bull, 33, of Port Macquarie started his 15 year addiction to gambling as a teenager living in England, where he would use his pocket money to bet on his football team, West Ham.
When smartphones were introduced, he went from gambling once a week to gambling on his phone during a long commute to work with a boss who was a big punter. “He groomed me into betting on new sports,” said Mr Bull.
Mr Bull’s mother died when he was only 12. After three years without betting and some help from a therapist, he recognises that gambling was “his escape” from the emotions of dealing with her death. “It takes away any feeling.”
The new research found young people with lower wellbeing were more likely to gamble, and those with less impulse control or have experienced trauma were more likely to experience problematic or at-risk gambling.
Mr Bull tried and failed many times to recover from gambling, only to get worse each time. It cost him work, sent him broke and unable to pay his rent, and destroyed his family and friends’ trust.
“When I became more addicted, I started betting on horse races, and greyhounds, and events which were quick fixes, rather than a football game or a tennis tournament that ran for a few weeks.
“You can get up at 11am, place a bet on horses, greyhound and harness race from 11am to 11pm at night. And as the Australian market closes, at 9pm or 10pm at night, you have the Western Australian races .. then the attention switches to the UK, South Africa and Hong Kong.
“You can literally sit on your phone and bet on horse racing, harness racing, every two minutes of every minute of the day. If you lose, you can go again and again. It is there on your mobile phone even while you are on the toilet.”
Gambling was everywhere in Australia, he said. “We’ve got to the stage where kids need to be informed of the dangers from a young age,” he said.
Julie Power is a senior reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.