Australian Perspectives on Social Gaming

The latest craze in the world of online entertainment is social gaming. Designed by companies like Zynga and Electronic Arts, social games provide players with the ability to share their gaming experiences with their friends via social networks like Facebook. Now that online casino operators have jumped on the bandwagon, Australian politicians have become concerned about the accessibility of social games.

Local responsible gambling advocates like Senator Nick Xenophon have expressed concern about the ‘digital currency’ available in social games. Regardless of whether or not the game includes gambling activities, players are still given the chance to purchase digital funds with their own money. For example, Farmville allows players to purchase ‘Farm Bucks’, which can be used to speed up various tasks.

This digital currency can be bought, even though players cannot cash out winnings from social gambling applications like Zynga Poker and Double Down Casino. As such, social games are designed only to take money from players, creating somewhat of a Catch-22: the prospect of allowing players to spend money in order to obtain digital currency worries politicians, but social gaming cannot be regulated by gambling laws because players cannot cash out their winnings.

Since these games are not classified as ‘gambling’, individuals of all ages can wager on them. Even if a player is under the legal gambling age, they can play Zynga Poker and other social casino games using their personal computer or mobile phone. Parents have become increasingly concerned that early exposure to gambling can encourage youths to develop unhealthy spending habits in the future, so these types of free games and social gambling activities are potentially harmful for young people.

Senator Xenophon has proposed that social gambling is regulated by the local government. He would like to change the definition of ‘gambling’, so that social casino games fall under this category. Should this happen, the local government can take an active role in ensuring that social gambling applications are not harmful to vulnerable individuals. The federal government could impose safeguards that prevent underage individuals and problem gamblers from accessing social casino games that encourage players to spend money.

However, whether or not the government will heed Xenophon’s advice remains to be seen. The Australian government remains on the fence about the possibility of regulating online gambling, so local gaming experts are sceptical about the government’s willingness to get involved in the social gaming market at this time. While it would certainly benefit local residents, federal politicians seem reluctant to make any changes to the Interactive Gambling Act.

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