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Does your child play online?


It is estimated that two-thirds of Irish people over the age of 18 will participate in some form of gambling.

We are a nation that likes to have an aul punt. Sure what’s wrong with the odd bet? Of course, the answer is nothing. But 55,000 people are believed to be living with severe gaming disorder in this country. The odd gamble, in my experience, turns so easily into a life-altering obsession that can spell ruin for the person caught in its all-consuming grip.

I’m no prude, but I see firsthand the destruction online gambling has had on the modern family in this country.

The pandemic introduced the gaming industry to a new type of consumer, the online gamer. How come profits didn’t drop during lockdown when most sporting events were cancelled? The answer lies in the arrival of smartphones and applications.

Traditionally, players had to navigate the opening hours of business premises. This meant there was respite between off and on hours for a problematic player and anyone orbiting their world. But with this new trend coming to the game, it literally means – and pardon the pun – that all bets are off when it comes to how much revenue can be generated. The opportunities are limitless.

There are no opening hours, no staff to worry about, just unlimited access to place bets at any time of the day.

Gaming impacts the reward center in the brain so chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are released as neurotransmitters that communicate that whatever we just did there we makes us feel good. And so, we chase that feeling. But the more we hit these chemicals, the more immune we become to them, so we need a bigger hit every time. This is where serious problems arise. The more you need, the greater the bet/risk you take. This is where a positive feedback loop is created. The very thing you take into your life to feel good about is the very thing that catapults your life into chaos.

You quickly evolve into addiction when you find yourself caught in a behavioral loop like this. The destruction for you and your family can be absolute.

Loot box video games have been banned in Belgium

We need to ensure that children are not exposed to play at a young age. I already wrote something about loot boxes. These are sealed mystery boxes in games paid for with real money that operate on the same principles as games of chance. They normalize play but, more importantly, these random reward boxes are structurally and psychologically akin to play. This means that they are far from benign and yet still exist within the structure of the games our children are exposed to.

They banned them in Belgium, why are we so slow to do the same? Why are we always so behind the curve? I know online content is changing rapidly, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for complacency.

Our children’s brains are programmed to play. This is a dystopian situation and we must not allow it to continue.

I’ve had parents in my clinic over the past few years talk about how their child maxed out their credit card purchase content in these loot boxes.

When I spoke to the children they all described the same experience, a sense of mystery about what could be won in the shiny box that jumped in front of them in the game and also the sense of urgency they felt to buy the contents .

This is what we would call a psychological boost.

It is a tactic used by marketers to trick the consumer into feeling they will miss out if they do not purchase the product immediately. It’s scary that our children are exposed to this stuff in the games they play in their bedrooms. The link between compulsive gambling and loot boxes has been solidly verified. So why are we so slow to pass laws that protect children from sinister elements that want to prime their brains to play?

The answer to this modern phenomenon of online gambling is a strong gambling regulator in Ireland that does not respond to trends, but rather is progressively proactive and on top of trends so that laws are designed to protect individuals and families.

The regulator must have teeth so that these organizations are not allowed to make money on the suffering of people with impunity. Some of the laws governing gambling in Ireland date back to the 1930s. Anyone who works with families hopes that the forthcoming Gambling Regulation Bill will be a chance for Ireland to bring its terribly outdated laws in the 21st century.

It’s the least our children deserve.