Adolescent gambling on Facebook: Is there a cause for concern?

Today’s Daily Mail published a story about Facebook’s plans to introduce gambling services and the potential effect on children and adolescents. The Mail reported that the world’s biggest social network site wants to use Britain as a testing ground for games that would let users gamble on virtual fruit machines, bingo, poker and roulette.” Given my research into youth gambling I was contacted by the paper and spoke at length to the journalist (Keith Gladdis) and sent him some of my papers on gambling on social networking sites. I have written a number of papers examining the playing of gambling-type games on social networking sites like Facebook and Bebo, and have concluded that the non-money games that children play online may also be of concern. In the end, only one quote of mine made it into the story in the Mail. I was quoted as saying:

“Even when no money changes hands, young children are learning the mechanics of gambling. These games can be a gateway to more serious gambling.”

So what is my basis for my quote? Across the world, the social networking phenomenon has spread rapidly. When it comes to gambling and gambling-like games, researchers have claimed that such games have the potential to ‘normalize’ gambling behaviours, and that the playing of them may change social understandings of the role of gambling amongst young people.

While socially responsible gambling companies emphasize that money spent gambling may not offer a return other than the pleasure gained from the game, social networking utilities can present gambling as a viable route for the acquisition of scarce virtual goods. Dr Carolyn Downs of Salford University has written about a type of pseudo-gambling on social networking sites called Fluff Friends. In this social networking forum, users (typically young girls) create ‘Fluff’ Art. To do this they have to earn ‘munny’ (sic) – a type of virtual money through pet racing. Pet racing costs 1-point per race and winnings can be up to 4000 points. Clearly no money is changing hands, but young children are learning the mechanics of gambling and Dr Downs asserts there are serious questions about whether gambling with virtual money encourages positive attitudes toward gambling in young people.

This raises interesting questions that need to be empirically examined. For instance, does gambling with virtual money lead to an increased prevalence of actual gambling? To what extent are gambling-related groups on social networking sites being used by those under 18 years of age? Does membership of such a groups facilitate access to commercial gambling sites?

Empirical evidence suggests that ‘money free’ gambling plays an important role for adolescents in conceptualizing and experiencing internet gambling. Over one in three British adolescents have been reported to gamble in money-free mode. A study by Ipsos MORI reported that 28% of 11- to 15-year olds in a United Kingdom sample had done so within the last week. It is through money-free gambling (using social networking sites or ‘demo’ modes of real gambling sites) that children are being introduced to the principles and excitement of gambling without experiencing the consequences of losing money. Using the Ipsos MORI data, researchers from Salford University carried out some further analysis and reported that gambling in money-free mode was the single most important predictor of whether the child had gambled for money and one of the most important predictors of children’s problem gambling. However, the possibility and extent to which money-free gambling is responsible for real gambling participation and gambling-related risk and harm can only be confirmed using longitudinal data.

Based on the available literature, it may be important to distinguish between these different types of money-free gambling being made available. Initial considerations suggest that these may be different both in nature and in impact. Adolescents who gamble in social networking modes may experience a different type and level of reinforcement than those gambling in ‘demo’ modes on real online gambling sites. For example, on some social networking sites the accumulation of ‘play money’ or ‘points’ may have implications for buying virtual goods or services or being eligible for certain privileges. This may increase the value and meaning of the gambling event to the individual. Secondly, when considering the ‘flow’ and intention of individuals accessing such sites, it could be argued that individuals accessing money free gambling through social networking sites may be more likely to be induced or persuaded to play given that these web-site visitors’ primary intention may have been social interaction (i.e., the primary function of the website) as opposed to those playing in ‘demo’ mode where gambling is the primary function of the website. Interestingly, four or five times more children reporting money free gambling on social networking sites compared to ‘demo’ or ‘free play’ modes on gambling websites. The nature and impact of various forms of money free gambling should be the subject of further research and empirical investigation.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Group, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gaming in social networking sites: A growing concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(5), 12-13.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on December 3, 2011, in Gambling, Psychology, Social Networking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Mark,

    A very topical blog, thanks for posting it. I think your suggestion is a good idea (looking at longitudinal studies in this space right now), we actually raised some similar points in a couple of blogs last year, including this one on social gaming and gambling (

    I’m not surprised The Mail has jumped on this story, it’s a potential gold mine and mine field for FB. Their branding re: reputation, safety, security, etc, is critical to them, therefore I’d expect to see them adopt a very comprehensive approach to player/youth protection if they go down this route, possibly implementing safety features the current UK laws do not mandate e.g. cross-operator self-exclusion.


  2. As I was reading I was thinking ‘but won’t this just show most children that gambling is a mug’s game?’ – and then I thought ‘it doesn’t work like that’ – but then I thought of a further point.
    I guess that in money-based gambling, the game is organised so that the House always wins in the end – or at best, it’s a zero-sum game in more informal games. But in online non-money games, the payoff can be set at any level the designer wants. In fact, setting it up so that there is a (moderate, irregular) net payoff for the player would be likely to encourage involvement. So could this mean that people are getting trained up in a positive-payoff system which encourages them unrealistically before being let loose in the real-life negative-payoff system?

  3. Nice post ! Thanks for, posting on my blog mate! I shall email you some time. I did not know that.

  4. WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait ..

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