Multiplayer online games

Giveaways like lottery tickets and online games could have unintended consequences for kids: Amanda Blackford and Karen Russo

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The holidays are a great time to have fun and play. Unfortunately, many gifts on a child’s vacation wish list could have unintended consequences down the road.

Lottery tickets, online gaming, and augmented reality are some of the top selling items this holiday season. For adults, these gifts can be a fun way to spend time with friends and family. For children, these gifts can be the start of a gambling problem.


Gambling triggers the release of a brain chemical that provides short-term satisfaction. Over time, the brain develops a tolerance to this chemical. The victories seem smaller. The desire to continue playing is growing. A child’s brain is not fully developed; thus, this cycle is easier for a child to enter and more difficult to stop.

Amanda Blackford is the Director of Problem Gambling Services for the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

Here’s the problem: Some of the more popular holiday gifts can get kids into this cycle, and adults have no idea what’s going on.

Lottery tickets are not child’s play.

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 10 to 14% of adolescents are at risk of developing a gambling problem. A study by the International Center for the Study of Gambling Problems and Risky Behaviors in Youth at McGill University have found that early gambling experiences, including with lottery tickets, are a risk factor for later gambling problems.

This is one of the reasons the Ohio Lottery strongly encourages that lottery tickets not be given away as stocking stuffers to people under the age of 18.

Many young people say their first gambling experience was between the ages of 9 and 11. Gambling in childhood is often a kind of lottery product, given away by the lack of awareness of a well-meaning adult.

Karen Russo is the Deputy Director of the Ohio Lottery Gaming Bureau.

Karen Russo is the Deputy Director of the Ohio Lottery Gaming Bureau.

What about online games?

The Entertainment Software Association found over 220 million Americans played video games in 2021. For many, this can happen responsibly. Yet the National Council on Problem Gambling is working with the Federal Trade Commission to study loot boxes, a common reward tactic in popular social games in games that young people play. Loot boxes impact the brain much like a slot machine does. Let’s be honest:

  • Would you let your child play slots for two consecutive hours?
  • Do you even know if the game you bought contains loot boxes?
  • Do you know all the games on your kid’s device?

Multiplayer Augmented Reality (AR) is different from Virtual Reality in that AR does not require a headset or glasses, making it more affordable and accessible to gamers. Since AR gaming may feel more authentic to gamers, they might think they are just playing a simple video game rather than playing a real game for real money.

There is also no “in-game pause” as AR only accepts digital payments; this makes it much easier to make more frequent and larger bets.

Online games and augmented reality have also advanced data tracking which enables AI-based algorithms to target young people and gamers with gambling problems.

It’s easy for something fun to turn into something great without even a parent knowing what just happened.

That is why Ohio for Responsible Gaming created a program called Change the game.Change the Game raises awareness of the realities of play among young people and connects parents, educators and children to the resources available for prevention and treatment.

Change the Game isn’t just working to prevent future gambling problems in our youth, we are working to help those affected right now.

Holidays should be fun, and there are online and augmented reality games that can be played safely in moderation. Know what you are buying and giving responsibly this holiday season. Together, we can help prevent gambling among young people. For more information on how you can be part of the solution,

Amanda Blackford is the Director of Problem Gambling Services for the Ohio Casino Control Commission. She oversees the Commission’s responsible gambling efforts, including the voluntary exclusion program that allows individuals to self-exclude from a casino and the problem gambling plans implemented at each of the four casinos in the Ohio. She also works with partners in the Ohio Commission for Responsible Gaming to promote comprehensive education, prevention and treatment programs across the state.

Karen Russo is the Deputy Director of the Ohio Lottery Bureau of Responsible Gaming and the Lottery Problem Gambling Advocate, ensuring best practices in corporate social responsibility. She is also a member of the board of directors of the National Problem Gambling Council.

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