Young people are increasingly exposed to interactive simulated gambling activities and promotions via digital and social media. However, the individual harms and social burdens associated with early exposure to simulated gambling activities currently are not well understood. This review presents a two-pathway model that conceptualizes the potential risks and benefits of early exposure to a variety of digital simulated gambling activities (e.g., ‘free-to-play’ online casinos, gambling-like video games, and social casino games). The catalyst pathway describes risk factors associated with early exposure to simulated gambling that may increase the risk of problem gambling. The containment pathway describes protective factors that may increase the likelihood of disinterest in gambling, or a tendency to engage in safe and responsible gambling.
This model emphasises the interaction between cognitive-behavioral processes and the structural design of simulated gambling activities. This foundational work may support three general aims in gambling addiction research and theory:
(1) to assist in identifying young simulated gamblers who may be more vulnerable to developing problem gambling in adulthood, while also accounting for those less likely to be at risk;
(2) to guide research agendas on the mental health profiles and natural histories of individuals involved in simulated gambling activities, and
(3) to inform clinical and public health interventions for gambling addiction.