July 3, 2024 3 min read


Fact-checked by Velimir Velichkov

NZ Gambling Support Charity Warns iGaming Impacts Children

With online betting and gambling companies targeting the youth, children as old as 11 or 12 are already piling up gambling debts

The popularity of mobile betting on sports and online gambling activities continues to grow across the globe. With smartphones in every pocket, gambling online has never been easier, even in jurisdictions that do not permit sports wagering or online casinos.

Besides posing a risk of excessive spending, the online gambling sector impacts not only adults but children as well. This is precisely the case described by one gambling support service organization in New Zealand.

Mapu Maia, a Pasifika Gambling Support Service, provides information, support and free confidential services to people affected by gambling harm. The organization has a team of health promoters and professional counselors who help families and children affected by gambling.

In a recent interview for RNZ’s Checkpoint, Pesio Ah-Honi, Mapu Maia’s chief executive, highlighted a concerning trend about an increased number of children affected by gambling. The exec sounded the alarm, saying that online gambling activities affect not only children in secondary school but in intermediate as well.

To put this into perspective, parents of children around the age of 12 and even 11 years old have been unpleasantly surprised that their children were gambling. And with those activities, came a piling debt, Ah-Honi said.

There are lots of adverts and marketing out there around online and betting on games, I believe the marketing to young people is really rife.

Pesio Ah-Honi, chief executive at Mapu Maia

Additionally, the expert warned that Mapu Maia believes that many betting and online gambling operators purposefully target children via social media advertisements. “The industry uses those platforms to specifically target young people. They’re not using social media to target the older generation,” explained Ah-Honi.

Although she acknowledged that regulating online gambling, especially offshore websites, is difficult, Mapu Maia’s chief executive urged for more education, as well as effective support

Loot Boxes Raise Concerns Just like Online Gambling

The concerning trend in children’s iGaming activities extends beyond the gambling sector. For more than a decade, loot boxes have been growing their popularity as an inseparable part of video games.

The so-called “loot box” awards players of online games different items that in some cases have a monetary value. While all of this sounds well, the way the award is granted resembles an activity that reminds a lot of slot gambling.

In essence, a weapon skin, piece of clothing or other reward is awarded randomly, similar to how slots award payouts. Children who play games that contain loot boxes may be particularly vulnerable to problem gambling in the future, which raises concerns about the activity itself.

Aaron Drummond, a Tasmania-based expert, who was quoted by the New Zealand Herald, pointed to research that shows a correlation between loot boxes in gaming and conventional gambling. “People who have symptoms of problem gambling also tend to spend more on loot boxes, and recent evidence suggests people who engage with these loot boxes are at greater risk of migrating into conventional gambling behaviors later down the road,” he warned.

Undoubtedly, to combat such threats, lawmakers in New Zealand need to leverage a proactive approach and strengthen the regulations related to online gambling and gaming. With that in mind, Mapu Maia is on the right track as counseling and education can also play a key role in the combat against gambling-related issues among children.


Jerome is a welcome new addition to the Gambling News team, bringing years of journalistic experience within the iGaming sector. His interest in the industry begun after he graduated from college where he played in regular local poker tournaments which eventually lead to exposure towards the growing popularity of online poker and casino rooms. Jerome now puts all the knowledge he's accrued to fuel his passion for journalism, providing our team with the latest scoops online.

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