The Diamond Casino and Resort
On 23rd July 2019, Rockstar's GTA Online launched The Diamond Casino and Resort. Describing itself as, “An exclusive luxury adult playground, with limitless indulgences. Binge and give in to temptation in our VIP casino. Play table games, slot machines, bet on races, spin the lucky wheel to win prizes or a new luxury car. Depraved night life, world class luxury shopping, or relax on the rooftops and swing by the infinity pool. The party doesn't have to stop. Spend your money sensibly by purchasing a luxury penthouse. Penthouse owners can play high limit tables or chill in the VIP lounge, with other people of a certain calibre. Give in to your whims and desires in an experience you will never forget, until you do”.
This Las Vegas style casino, appeared on a part of the game map next to the Vinewood Racetrack that has been left closed off since the games release. The casino hosts, a considerable number of traditional casino games, such as slot machines and card tables for poker and blackjack. It also has a facility for betting on horse races. The Diamond casino affords all of the same audio and visual cures associated with a real casino. Since opening, the game has received a huge return of gamers, the highest number of players since the launch of GTA5 back in 2013. All ready GTA Online has been banned in over 50 countries because of their gambling laws.
As well as experiencing all the casino has to offer, players can complete co-op missions to earn rewards which can then be used to purchase property such as penthouses at the Diamond Casino Resort. While virtual money can be purchased with real money, the game does not permit an exchange of virtual money for real. So should parents be concerned with this latest game update? The simplest answer is YES?
Gambling Statistics in Ireland
The whole purpose of going to a casino is to partake in gambling. We know from the huge number of schools we have visited right across the country, there are an enormous number of children and teens playing GTA5. While the game is targeted at an over 18's market, this game was incredibly popular with underage players. Introducing children and underage teens to the concepts of gambling, is not in their best interests. In the real world, age restrictions prevent children from partaking in gambling activities, however in the online world, such restrictions are futile. It is also important to remember that simulated gambling can lead to real world gambling.
There is little data available on the prevalence of problem gambling in Ireland. In contrast, much research has been carried out in the UK to try to get a picture of how pervasive gambling is. In 2016, it was estimated that there were around 300,000 problem gamblers in the UK, which just is under 0.5% of the population. Unfortunately, figures on problematic gambling in Northern Ireland cast a far more serious shadow, with estimates of 2.3% of the population being classified as a problem gambler, around 43,000 people. A study by The Economist in 2017 put Ireland's total gambling losses at €2.1 billion a year. That is an incredible €470 per adult in the country right now. Given this figure, we must accept that Ireland also has a similar gambling problem.
The hidden connection between Gaming and Gambling
Studies increasingly are showing a migration from online virtual gambling towards, actual gambling, in both the real and online world. Most vulnerable to this migration are male teens, who have experienced aspects of gambling through games played on consoles and other digital devices. In-App purchases, micro transactions for skins and loot boxes, are just some of the predatory techniques now used by Gaming companies, to encourage players to spend real money in games. Traditionally the only cost to a player was the initial outlay for the game itself. Now however, purchasing the game is just the beginning.
Once the player starts to play, game designers use numerous discrete methods to encourage the player to hand over even more money, to progress within the game. While admittedly a good business model for the game designers, there may be long term and seriously negative implications for the player. A study published in the journal Addiction found some online games facilitate endless spending behaviours. The games employ techniques that hide or supress the actual long-term financial cost of these micro transactions. Unfortunately, the true financial cost to the player may not be obvious until the player is financially or psychologically committed. By then the player can find it exceptionally difficult to stop.
Successful Conditioning Through Variable Reward Schedules
Taking loot boxes as an example, a player may seek a particular item to enhance their characters abilities within a game. Purchasing a loot box, can be a short cut to getting the item. Rather than spending hours playing to build up points or virtual currency, purchasing a loot box may provide the player with the item they need. The problem here is, the player does not know what they have purchased, until the item is revealed after purchasing the loot box. This is better known as, a variable reward system, which is a form of conditioning.
There is no skill required here, just expense. It goes without saying, very few will receive their coveted item, with their first purchase. Not knowing when the item will appear, encourages the player to try again, if unsuccessful. This type of conditioning is traditionally considered the most effective on animals and humans. This form of conditioning is also exactly the same as the one used in gaming machines.
With slot machines, or any other gaming maching designed for gambling, players are always attempting to get the big reward, win the top prize. They receive constant encouragement through occasional smaller wins. This helps to distract from the losses they have incurred. The hope always being, the next spin could be the jackpot. Unfortunately, the reward or jackpot is always just slightly out of reach, always just one more spin away. When the actual losses are eventually realised, stopping can become more difficult, once a mistaken belief takes hold that a win may restore the total loss.
Gambling in GTA Online
Loot boxes and similar methods of ‘predatory monetisation' are harmful because they encourage repeated spending using schemes often involving a limited availability of item or activity within the game. The blatant manipulation of variable reward schedule outcomes only encourage an increased purchasing behaviours rather than skilful play. The Diamond Resort Casino is exactly what it says on the tin. It's a gaming casino, where the whole idea is to encourage players to spend their virtual money gambling. We obviously have huge reservations concerning children and young teens accessing this online environment, due to the potential long term risk of harm and the exposure to the concepts of gambling.
The video below was put together by Game Quitters, a YouTube channel dedicated to help people struggling with gaming addiction to quit. The video give an excellent description of this new feature of GTA Online as well as highlighting the problematic issues younger players will be exposed to. We would highly recommend viewing it, as the issues highlighted are not just specific to GTA Online, but also many of the other games which are currently popular with young gamers.
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There is an uncomfortable statistic suggested in this video. As many as 5 million children are being put at risk of exposure to gambling through GTA5. The bottom line here is GTA5 and GTA Online are adult games. Games created specifically for an adult market. Adults being person's over 18 years of age. This new game update is not suitable in any way for children or young teens. Outside of gambling, the game also contains several other adult related themes, all of which are unsuitable for a younger audience. We would ask all parents to ensure children are only ever given access to age appropriate content at all times.