Get ’em While They’re Young: Advertising Gambling to Youth

I’m no longer a consumer of the refuse that MacDonald’s calls food, but it wasn’t long ago when I had walked into a MacDonald’s desperately looking for a cup of cheap coffee and SMACK! I received a happy-meal-palm-heal right into my nose. The effect was potent and seductive. Images from my childhood raced through my mind as if I was anticipating my untimely death. I suddenly felt better about myself, and an unconscious force insidiously fish-hooked the corners of my mouth and pulled them in opposite directions until the skin of my lips felt as if they would tear. I was home. No, no I wasn’t home! I quickly turned tail and ran for the nearest exist before the pedophilic circus jester, the large purple amoeba, and the hamburger-headed kleptomaniac could entice me further.

After reading Sklar and Derevensky’s (2010) article, which analyzed gambling ads for their appeal to underage youth, I wasn’t totally convinced that advertisers were necessarily trying to encourage teen gambling. I do believe, however, that it is a well-known mantra in the marketing world that if you get in their heads when they’re young, you’ll be home base when they’re old. To neglect this mantra would risk disrupting the generational continuity of consumer loyalty. Perhaps gambling institutions are more concerned about maintaining this continuity than in selling to teens and young children.

Recently, when our honours class took a “field trip” to Casino Nova Scotia, we were surprised to see the installment of an arcade-like “Games Room” tailored to a teen demographic. Everything from the slot machines to the Poker tables were refurbished accordingly. The slots were smaller and featured Disneyesque cartoon characters, the Poker tables were finished with a cool matted black fabric, x-boxes were stationed in front of black leather sofas, and a Monster Energy drink station located at the back of the room promised an unlimited supply of fuel. Of course, minors are not permitted in the Casino, so we’re certainly not going to see a murder of teenagers ransacking the Xboxes. However, young adults now have a home inside the Casino away from the senior slot players, or the old veterans trembling their way through Poker. In this way, the Casino has achieved an important benchmark of marketing: maintain cross-generational loyalty.

            I don’t know what else to say. I simply don’t agree with putting the gambling industry in the hands of venture capitalists and government interests looking for the extra tax revenue. As long as the “bottom line” is driving our gaming industry, I can’t be optimistic. Perhaps we could put gambling in the hands of mental health practitioners. Maybe the Canadian Psychological Association should be governing Casino Nova Scotia?

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