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An Australian Gambling Research Centre report says free online gambling games are more accessible than ever thanks to smart phones and tablets. The report says people who play are more likely to become problem gamblers in real life.

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MARK COLVIN: A new report says online games are teaching people the basics of real life gambling at younger ages than ever before.

The Australian Gambling Research Centre report says free online gambling games are more accessible than ever thanks to smart phones and tablets.

And it says people who play are more likely to become problem gamblers in real life.

Social Affairs correspondent, Norman Hermant.

NORMAN HERMANT: Just one click on your Facebook page, or one press on your smart phone. Simulated gambling games are everywhere online. From slot machines, to roulette, to poker – the games are simulated.

But a new report from the Australian Gambling Research Centre says the problems they pose are very real.

Anna Thomas is the report’s co-author.

ANNA THOMAS: These games really give you that gambling-like experience. So what that means is that you can really learn the rules of the game. Have a practice, understand how that works.

NORMAN HERMANT: Once players do that, says the report, they are more likely to become problem gamblers in real life. And the exposure is starting at younger ages than ever before.

Anna Thomas.

ANNA THOMAS: Young people today particularly are growing up around these electronic games. They’re very, very familiar with these games. And this is introducing gambling to them at a much younger age than you would normally expect for young people.

NORMAN HERMANT: The report says a particular danger of simulated games is that players are insulated from the consequences of losing – they can just play again if their luck turns.

JAKE NEWSTADT: I think that’s the danger of these kinds of games.

NORMAN HERMANT: Jake Newstadt sought help for his gambling two years ago, and now works as a project officer helping problem gamblers.

He’s not surprised by the popularity of simulated gambling games.

JAKE NEWSTADT: They kind of plant potential messages inside of us that we’re not really aware of.

On some level, these games do the same thing as real gambling because they trigger something in the brain where there’s this moment of anxiety about not knowing whether this result is going to go our way or not, and that process and that pattern can become quite addictive.

NORMAN HERMANT: The report raises another concern about games that on the surface have nothing to do with gambling.

(Sound of shooting in game)

NORMAN HERMANT: These are the sounds of the wildly popular online game Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

On their screens, players are looking down the barrel of a gun, hunting down global terror networks. But players quickly learn the action is also a platform for gambling.

ASHLEY WALTON: They don’t explicitly say it, but that’s definitely what it is.

NORMAN HERMANT: Nineteen-year-old Ashley Walton has been playing CS:GO, as it’s known, for three years.

In the game, players can purchase keys. They open digital cases, which reveal “prizes”- mostly different kinds of weapons to use in the game.

ASHLEY WALTON: You would spend about $AUD3 per key and it would essentially roll sort of like a pokie machine, just like with all the items sliding past you and it would stop on one.

Because I mean that was probably the first time I dabbled in actual gambling with real money.

NORMAN HERMANT: The Australian Gambling Research Centre’s Anna Thomas says most parents don’t know this is happening.

ANNA THOMAS: Particularly if you’re a parent watching your child playing a game you may have no idea that they’re actually going into a room and having that experience within in another game that is really something completely different to gambling.

NORMAN HERMANT: The report says part of the answer is much more consistent advisory warnings for online games so that players and parents know in simulated games, there is real risk.

MARK COLVIN: Norman Hermant.

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