Cam Adair was so deep in his video game addiction, he says it almost killed him.
“I was young. I probably played 16 hours a day every day, all day, every day. I quit school twice, pretended to have a job and cheated on my family. I got to a point where I wrote a suicide note. And it was a little bit that night that I realized I had to change something. ”
Now, after years of counseling, Adair is alive and well and the founder of Game Quitters.
Alex Kearns, a 20-year-old client of the trading app Robinhood, was not so lucky. He took his own life last summer after thinking he made a $ 730,000 loss on Robinhood.
His parents placed the blame entirely on the investing company, pointing out that Kearns tried multiple times to get help through a customer service, but to no avail. Kearns’ family has since filed a wrongful death sentence against Robinhood.
At a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday, Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev said, “ The passing of Mr. Kearns has caused great concern to me and the entire company, and we have vowed to take a series of steps, very aggressive steps to make our option product safer for our customers. “
Lawmakers are asking tough questions about the fairness of the platforms and the allure of the apps
“Is the participation of individual retailers in the gambling market?” asked US Representative Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., during Thursday’s hearing.
The resounding answer from those with a vested interest in avoiding the bad reputation of gambling and cumbersome, expensive regulation was a resounding “No.”
Tenev challenged Robinhood’s gamification, saying, “We know investing is serious, and we’re investing in all the educational tools and customer support to help people in their investment journey.”
“I believe the vast majority of retail holdings are people who save to make their dreams come true,” said Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel hedge fund.
“Investors can participate in the market just as much as insites can participate,” said Reddit trader Keith Gill, who was pushing GameStop’s potential when the stock rose from $ 18 around New Year’s Day to more than $ 480 later in January.
But experts in gambling addiction categorically disagree. “Investing, whether it’s in the stock market through, you know hedge funds, derivatives or whatever, is that this is actually a form of gambling,” said Mark Griffiths, professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University in the UK.
And investing is increasingly starting to look and sound like gambling and video games. For example, the video game Space Shooters is giving away treasures for free. Sports betting platform FanDuel offers free bet insurance and Robinhood is giving away free stock.
“For example, if I look at a video game player and someone who plays a slot machine, both behavioral and psychological, they behave almost entirely the same way. The only difference is that the video game players use points to keep score, whereas gamblers , you know, kind of use how much they’ve won and lost as a way to keep score, ”Griffiths said.
He has spent years studying addictive behavior and works as a consultant to companies such as Entain, a British gaming company that owns BetMGM with MGM Resorts. Entain launches a comprehensive initiative to address video game and esports issues.
Entain and other casinos such as MGM and Caesars are recognized within the industry for leadership in problem gambling. But gambling regulators require companies to take varying degrees of responsibility for initiatives against problem gambling.
“The gambling industry has recognized that problem gamblers are not good for your business in the long run because they have a short shelf life,” said Griffiths.
The betting companies see that it increases profits in the long run, but it can also prevent expensive regulation.
In the UK, regulators now require gambling companies to use the data they collect about their players to identify markers of damage, such as significant changes in gambling behavior. Informed consent technology provides specific feedback to help players make decisions that are more favorable to them.
“What you see from both investing and gambling to gaming is that these industries are really trying to learn from each other,” says Adair. One of the biggest ways they’ve done that is by increasing accessibility, making it easy in their products and easy to spend money. “
For Adair, who travels the world to talk to students and parents about the dangers of addictive behavior, education is crucial. “I think we should pay a lot more attention to this.”
Disclosure: The Washington City Times parent company Comcast and NBC Sports are investors in FanDuel.