New evidence that "skill tester " crane grab machines groom young gamblers, says CQUni study

08 April 2021

Australian children who play arcade games that promote taking risks for an uncertain prize are more likely to gamble later in life and have a higher rate of problem gambling' a new study by CQUniversity gambling researchers has found.

The study' which surveyed people across Australia and the United Kingdom' asked adult gamblers and non-gamblers to recall their use of legal arcade games like coin push and crane grab or skill tester.

The coin-operated arcade games aren't regulated' and Australia is home to dozens of companies supplying tens of thousands of machines to arcades' play centres' pubs and even shopping malls nationally.

Across Australian gamblers' 90.4 per cent said they'd played the game as a child' compared to 89.2 per cent of non-gambling respondents.

In the UK' the difference was more stark' with 92.5 per cent of gamblers recalling playing crane grabs underage' compared to 86.9 per cent of non-gamblers.

For the less pervasive coin-push games' 60.8 per cent of Australian gamblers reported using coin push machines as a child' compared to just 48.6 per cent of Australian non-gamblers.

Lead author and CQUniversity Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory researcher Dr Philip Newall said the analysis showed the potential for legal gambling-like games to groom young people for adult gambling.

"The analysis certainly shows a link between these games' where the player risks money to win sometimes valuable prizes' like mobile phones or game consoles' as well as more common toys'" he said.

"These machines are programmed to essentially get players' hopes up – they provide an artificially high number of 'near-wins'' where the crane grabs a high-value prize then drops it at the last second."

"That programming is just like a poker machine' which conditions you to feel like you're 'so close' that you keep playing' and keep chasing the win."

"These legal' unregulated games definitely meet the definition of gambling' and they're being used by children all over the country – and disturbingly' often at the same venues where adults are gambling."

"In other research' we've shown that 'loot boxes' in video games' which replicate a lucky-dip style prize for in-game spending' are more likely to gamble in real life.

"Now these results show that real-life arcade games are creating another pathway into gambling' and grooming gambling behaviours in children."

The study was published in the international journal Addictive Behaviors' and compared childhood experiences of gambling for gamblers in the United Kingdom and Australia. Read the full study here:

The survey also asked respondents who had gambled in the past 12 months to complete the Problem Gambling Severity Index' a nine-item and commonly-used measure of problem gambling.