Teens and online gambling addiction (MMORPG)

By Brad Marhsall, Child and Adolescent Psychologist - Author Profile

Many years ago I was invited to write an article for the Networks for Internet Investigation and Research Australia (NIIRA) on how to engage children and adolescents suffering from Internet Addiction. Despite this not being an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5), it has been ear marked as an area in need of further research. Some of my colleagues will debate the use of the term Internet Addiction, and prefer ‘Problematic Internet Use’. I am less interested in semantics and refer to Internet Addiction as this is the term most familiar to families I see.

In my earlier submission to NIIRA, which can be found at www.niira.org.au, I observed that as Internet Addiction is such a new phenomena it can be difficult for child psychologists, schools, and parents to keep up. Technology is a rapidly developing domain. The convenience it can bring to our daily lives is unquestionable, but at what cost? I have observed a proportion of children and teenagers who interact with the Internet in such a way it can effect their emotional, behavioural, social, and educational development.

While I cannot address the concerns I see in my practice in this forum, I would like to share a new and increasing development in the realm of Internet Addiction. This year I have observed an increase in children and teenagers struggling with online gambling or betting on Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPG). When I am giving a presentation on this topic, I like to pose this question to the audience: How would one place a bet on a MMORPG? Of course the puzzled looks ensue. Answer? The same way you bet on your favourite sporting event or horse race. That’s right, pop on down to your local betting facility and eat your heart out. Or perhaps embrace technology and pull out your smart phone, which will allow you to do so at your convenience. For those sceptics, take a few minutes to search the betting sites commonly advertised on TV and search under ‘E-Sports’ or something similar. I can tell you in the next Counter Strike (CS-GO) ‘Dreamhack Open Event’ Team Envius are currently paying $3.60 for the win.

We would hope that most teenagers do not have access to an account with one of our large betting companies. I sense a collective sigh of relief? Unfortunately, there is a much easier way to bet on these events. Teenagers are now using third party websites that allow users to bet items within online games. Let me take you through this step-by-step. If I play a MMORPG one of the main goals is to acquire items within this online world. Typically it’s an item that enhances my character like a sword, or body armour etc. I am then able to bet these items on the outcome of ‘professional tournaments’. I can watch these tournaments live through YouTube at some ungodly hour due to international time differences. I am also able to sell these items (yes I’m talking currency in exchange for items) to other players around the world. This money will then register in my Paypal, or ‘Steam’ account allowing me access. If you lost me somewhere along the way, the punch line is that betting these items has the same risk and reward scenario as you trotting down to the casino and putting it all on black.

In my anecdotal experience, this can create significant emotional and behavioural swings in children and teenagers. After all, if I lost $500 at the casino I know I would be upset and angry!

Brad is a Child and Adolescent Psychologist with many years experience consulting in some of Sydney’s well-respected hospitals and most recently at the University of Notre Dame Australia. He is currently consulting full time at Northshore Kidspace, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology clinic on Sydney’s North Shore.

Brad Marshall Photo

Brad Marshall
Principal Psychologist
Northshore Kidspace
B.A. Psych, M.HSc. Beh Sci, Assoc MAPS