The Thin Line Between Gaming and Gambling

Whether you grew up carefully guiding a pixelated Mario through the ‘Mushroom Kingdom’ or the phrase ‘loot boxes’ has always been in your vocabulary, playing video games offers a rewarding challenge and, to many, an escape from everyday life. But have you ever stopped to think about the similarities between gaming and gambling? Because when you boil it down, card games and slot machines aren’t that different—though the rewards and losses can be more substantial. Let’s explore gaming and gambling and whether or not video games encourage gambling later in life.

Why Is Video Gaming Beneficial?

For many people who play video games, loading up their favourite titles at least a couple of days per week has many positive aspects. While nearly every age group reports playing video games sometimes, recent reports say that more than three-quarters of current gamers are over the age of 18. Gamers also self-reported why they played games, and while the reasons varied somewhat, mental stimulation, joy, and stress relief ranked rather high, with more than 85% of gamers indicating that games helped them in those important categories.

Age differences showed more substantial brain benefits from gaming. For example, gamers 65 and older play because they believe video games keep them mentally sharp, as succeeding at in-game puzzles requires strategy and planning.

Video Gaming Problems

While video games do offer profound mental health benefits, some modern games have drawbacks that push gamers toward negative, potentially addictive habits. For example, many mobile games are free initially but offer in-game purchases, often for real money, that enhance their abilities. The companies behind these games make money whenever players purchase loot boxes, which are in-game purchases for effectively random items. Many experts see loot box purchases as a problem, especially with children exchanging real money for chances for major upgrades within a virtual world.

The Benefits of Gambling

Online and in-person gambling both have benefits similar to those of video games. Compared to other sources of entertainment like TV, gambling provides relaxation, stimulation, and, in some cases, human interaction when played with others. Gambling in the form of table games and slots with complex rules and prizes enhances concentration, memory, and problem-solving skills.

However, playing bets with money goes beyond brain skills, as gambling helps build a tolerance to risk. Taking calculated risks is a necessary life skill, and when honed correctly, it could lead to success in business and relationships. Done carefully, risks can pay off!

Where Gaming and Gambling Need to Draw a Line

So, where do we draw the line between gaming and gambling? An honest answer is with kids. You see many warnings for adults with government-enforced messages about responsible wagers when you visit online or in-person casinos to place bets on a roulette wheel or a football game. A person under 18 couldn’t walk into a casino in the United Kingdom and place a bet, as they would have to show identification.

Unlike for adult casinos, a specific requirement telling a video game developer to stop asking minors to buy an unknown, chance-based item within a game does not yet exist, much less a kid-friendly warning indicating they are exchanging real money for virtual items. Many people see that as a significant problem.

The Australian and United Kingdom governments want video games designed for youngsters to clearly warn parents and children about some of the transactions that could take place while they are playing. They believe that additional steps are also needed to prevent kids from learning the behaviours that promote excessive gambling later in life. Potential remedies include using the already-in-place Pan-European Gaming Information rating system to raise the age level of any game containing microtransactions so that minors can’t download or buy them.

The need for warnings could help parents better prepare for conversations about money, games, and the chances of winning something meaningful. A good set of household rules about these tough concepts may aid families in avoiding bigger challenges when kids repeatedly request more money or, worse yet, take it without asking. These discussions are a stepping stone in turning kids into responsible adults.

Moderation Is Key

Too much of anything can turn bad quickly, whether we are talking about ice cream, junk food, or binge-watching shows the night before an important day. Both video gaming and gambling are beneficial for people who want to relieve stress and keep their brains active, so long as they recognize their personal time and money limits while doing so.

The moderation issue hasn’t applied well to microtransactions and potential gambling within video games, as there are now many free games that encourage players, even kids, to spend money as a primary source of revenue. With government intervention on the horizon, we can hope that game developers won’t be able to get kids started young in the way cigarette companies targeted kids in the past.


As an adult, the line between gaming and gambling is more obvious. While gamblers have been placing wagers through sites like for decades, there are growing issues within the video game industry regarding gambling-like elements that coerce players into spending additional money. Fortunately, regulators are taking action to at least make such games safer for kids.

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