The children in my family have gambling problems.
Chances are, so does your son, daughter, niece, nephew, and any other kid in your life.
Have you been to an arcade lately? If so, then you may have noticed that for every standard video game, there tends to be at least three attractions that resemble something you might see in a casino.
Swipe your card, aim the quarter funnel at the cliff of teetering gold booty, then pull the trigger and hope it wedges such that change flows over the edge, resulting in a flood of tickets if you’re lucky.
Watch the arrow spin around a wheel, then hit the big red button when you think it is lined up with the target.
And of course, don’t even think about leaving the arcade before you swipe a couple bucks away trying to wrap a claw that couldn’t lift a Lego around an anonymous L.O.L. Surprise! prize the size of a toddler.
None of these challenges are the same, and I recognize how certain games that you can win tickets or gifts by playing—Skee-Ball, for example—involve more skill than, say, the aforementioned pirate plunge. What they all have in common, however, is that they trigger dopamine in kids in a way that makes their reaction to candy seem tame. In short, think about how gambling scrambles an adult’s brain, then mix that with crack smoke.
It’s not about the game—it’s about the gain. The rewards available at your local Laser Tag arena are well within the legal limit in their cash-equivalent value, but that doesn’t change the fact that some machines are a mere pass-through for kiddie tokens that can then get exchanged for crappy toys and cheap candy. When you think about it that way, the ritual seems less than healthy.
I’m not the first person to notice that children are being fleeced and primed to become high rollers. My instinct is to remain ignorant and just say, Yeah, this seems pretty serious, but it’s always been like this. In a way it has; one time, back in the ’80s, I remember that my cousin’s teacher called my aunt to ask why her daughter was counting, ace, deuce, three in school… It was because my family, including the kids, played card games and a bingo spinoff called Po-Ke-No regularly. All these years later, as far as I know, none of us have gambling problems.
It would be convenient to reach such a dim-witted, Hannitonian conclusion. But what seems slightly more responsible is to study up on the latest developments regarding young people and gambling. In the UK and some US states led by California, there is a serious discussion underway about the danger of loot boxes in video games which, as far as my limited research suggests, are basically digital versions of L.O.L. dolls and other surprise toys, only far more costly and addictive.
I’m not sure if there is much that I can do about this apparent problem, but from now on you can bet it’s on my radar. If you know of any solid research in this arena, please send it my way: firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.