When children play, they are actually rehearsing for adulthood. Toy kitchens teach them to cook and clean up, dolls are meant to simulate relationships between humans, while toy cars prepare them for the concept of traffic. But what happens when the toys offered simulate gambling?
Penny Slots and handheld casino games
In the nineties, a Chinese manufacturer started distributing miniature slot machines which were activated by fake pennies and worked similarly to real slots. The problem was they were distributed across large supermarket chains in the US and were distributed as toys recommended for ages 5 and up. The outrage was not lessened when somebody figured out that real dimes also activated the machine, which it could also pay out if the player won. Representatives of Wal-Mart argued that such toys were used for years to develop hand-eye coordination with children and that they see no problem with the particular toy, arguing that parents are the ones that need to be responsible for buying these toys or not.
The situation today
Having in mind these moral dilemmas, one could assume that the situation today is clearer and regulated. Well, gambling toys are even more available than ever. Just google “candy slot machine” and you’ll see that between casino ads, there is a plethora of really nicely made slot machines for children, some of them even branded with candy manufacturers such as M&Ms.
Furthermore, the digital world is rife with child gambling, especially with new concerns about so-called loot boxes in online games being a form of gambling. On the other hand, aren’t mobile games like Candy Crush so addictive that the patterns of their players resemble addicted gamblers?
If toys are meant to simulate real life, should children be taught about gambling, which is a part of real life, as well? Is it better to familiarize them with the phenomenon so they wouldn’t encounter it later in life without no prior experience and then be more susceptible to problem gambling? Or does normalizing the presence of gambling equipment push children towards gambling later on, increasing the risk of gambling addiction? People combated the sale bubble-gum cigarettes for ages, so are toy slots any different? There are many opinions, but one thing is for sure – the responsibility lies with parents to educate their children and direct them towards avoiding problems in the future.