eSports / video games

Is gambling addiction rife among the growing video game market? New research would suggest not, but the government could still crack down. (Image: AFP/Getty)

Gambling addiction: it’s the buzz phrase that is fuelling the Aussie fight against pokies, sportsbetting and gaming.

Report after report has shown that Aussies are gambling more per capita than the majority of developed countries.

But while campaigners are pushing for pokies to be limited, another fight is on: the war on video games.

In 2016, games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO) were slammed for incorporating elements of gambling in order to progress. Veteran anti-gambling campaigner Nick Xenophon, on a roll with his pokies crusade, called eSports the “Wild West of gambling” in August and called for eSports to be covered by the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

Of particular concern to politicians is the number of youngsters playing games. eSports is a multi-billion dollar industry that has led to its top players being treated like superstars and arenas selling out in live virtual battles.

Away from the ‘games of chance’ built into third-party sites that allow gamers to win upgrades and weapons, are the games themselves addictive? A new study out this month may have put the issue to bed, for now.

New Report Shows No Addiction Link

A report published this month by Oxford University showed that internet games were not as addictive as gambling. This unique research attempted to measure the way social and video games are being played in the general population.

But of the 19,000 men and women from four developed countries who were surveyed, just 2-3 percent reported experiencing symptoms that would suggest evidence of “internet gaming disorder”.

Loss of control, social withdrawal, anxiety, and gaming withdrawal symptoms were all monitored. However, despite government concerns over “eSports”, the report showed no clear link between gaming online and addiction.

eSports Ban Flies In Face Of Gambling Research

Concerned about the gambling element of eSports, the SA government has banned betting on games like CS:GO in a first for an Australian state.

The move has come about amid a tax crackdown on sportsbetting sites operating to SA residents. However, the government sought independent advice before deciding to prevent a new generation of gamblers emerging.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to the attraction of gambling on sporting contests conducted on the platform of video games,” said SA’s Consumer and Business Affairs Minister, John Rau, in August.

“The Government is determined to keep our children cyber-safe. We do not want them to be introduced to gambling under the guise of a game.”

eSports is firmly in Xenophon’s cross-hairs too. He said in August: “Instead of shooting avatars, parents soon find out that [their children] have shot huge holes through their bank accounts.”

Gambling on eSports is now possible thanks to expanded betting markets available at Australian sportsbetting sites. And it’s not the MCG (for now) that is hosting live eSports battles, it’s the Crown Casino. Melbourne’s flagship casino has been instrumental in bringing live eSports tournaments to the masses.

Several tournaments have sold out this year, with 15,000 spectators straining for a peek at the best Counter-Strike players doing their thing live on stage.

Are Video Games The Problem Of The Future?

Oxford University’s evidence would seem to back up a wider feeling that for now, video games don’t pose the same threat as online casino games.

Dr. Mark Griffiths of the UK’s International Gaming Research Unit told that eSports are still a minor concern compared to free-play casino games available online.

A long-time researcher into the effects of gaming, Dr. Griffiths was highlighting the addictive qualities of video games back in the early 1990s. However, he suggests we won’t know the extent of video games’ addiction for another few years.

Of more concern, he says, is the ability for under-age gamblers to play ‘free-play’ pokies online. These, and social slots available via Facebook, provide a skewed view of traditional casino games. It’s only when playing real-money pokies that the “true” house edge can be understood.

If the government is serious about tackling addiction in Australians, it might be better to better regulate online casinos and get a handle on the thousands of pokie machines dotted around the Australian landscape.

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