Children and Gambling

Children and gambling. That’s a bad mix, right?

I wouldn’t let the children bet on a horse. I wouldn’t let the children anywhere near fruit machines. I wouldn’t let the children buy a scratch card. But, I’d probably let the children help me pick lottery numbers and, really, if I bought a scratch card I’d probably let the children help me scratch it off.

But one thing I always, always let the children do, and encourage them to do, is play on 2p arcade machines. They will happily spend half an hour in an arcade with me, sharing £5 of 2ps between us over that time, watching them as they bounce their way down to the moving layers at the bottom, sometimes pushing more coins out or even a plastic toy but more often than not pushing coins into the dark depths of the machine, never to be seen again.

But 2p machines aren’t gambling are they? They’re just a bit of fun in an arcade. What about the 10p versions where you throw your money away five times quicker than the 2p ones? What about the grab machines where you pay 20p to try and grab a cuddly toy? They’re not gambling either are they?

So, the children and I can easily spend £5 on the arcade machines, trying to win yet more 2ps or a pack of hair clips. That £5 disappears in no time at all and yet I wouldn’t let the children buy a scratch card, a scratch card that costs less than the money we put in those 2p machines and which probably has a better prize on offer.

I would happily help the children put those 2ps in the machine for as long as it took to get rid of them all, watching more fall out the bottom and putting those in too. But I wouldn’t let the children put a pound in a fruit machine.

I know that there are laws about scratch cards, the lottery, betting and even fruit machines but as a parent often things come into question that aren’t just governed by the law and instead are decided by our own morality, our own conscience and, often, the way that we have always done things.

I grew up playing 2p machines in seaside arcades with my parents and grandparents. It was the way we would always end a day at the beach and it’s something that I have loved introducing the children to. They love putting their 2ps into the machines, trying to win another piece of brightly coloured tat from inside and inevitably losing all their 2ps in the end, going home tired but happy and with those grubby hands you only get from old 2ps.

This has been a tradition for me for years, and one I have introduced the children to. But is it really any less gambling than just buying a scratch card? Yes, it does give satisfaction for that little bit longer but it is still throwing money away, spending money to have a chance at a prize. Are 2p machines just gambling in disguise?

Children and Gambling


  • Donna Wishart

    Donna Wishart is married to Dave and they have two children, Athena (12) and Troy (11). They live in Surrey with their two cats, Fred and George. Once a Bank Manager, Donna has been writing about everything from family finance to days out, travel and her favourite recipes since 2012. Donna is happiest either exploring somewhere new, with her camera in her hand and family by her side or snuggled up with a cat on her lap, reading a book and enjoying a nice cup of tea. She firmly believes that tea and cake can fix most things.

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  1. Hmm interesting post. I think as you say it comes down to your own morality and I love the way you have made it fun and a holiday tradition. I was never allowed on 2p machines as a child, my Mum always said it was a waste of money so it’s not really anything I plan to introduce my children too, but not really for moral reasons, more I just don’t like just watching the money disappear. I do play the lottery and would let them scratch of a scratch card too.

  2. This is so interesting….
    I suppose the 2p machines are gambling but it’s something I grew up playing on day trips to the seaside and I never thought of it like that…It’s all a bit of fun. It’s not like we’re at the 2p machines every day. It’s a once in a blue moon thing x

  3. Oh, interesting. I haven’t given this much thought (yet) but my gut response is that, although playing 2p machines IS gambling, it’s so unusual to actually win at them that they might be teaching kids about accepting failure and setting (financial) limits; with the lottery, spending the money and failing to win is separated by so much time and daydreaming that I don’t think that lesson’s as obvious. Hmm…

  4. 2p machines are gambling but I let my children play on them as with everything there’s a lesson to be learned. It’s ok as long as you know when to stop! And at the end they always know that they had fun but their little pots are now empty.

  5. Hmm, I’m not sure I’d class it as gambling because you’re never going to win loads of money. That said, I’m not really into them. We might have 50p on them occasionally but we all get bored quite quickly!

  6. I have grappled with this exact same issue! We live by the beach and on a rainy day we’ll sometimes go to the pier and play on the 2p machines. DH grew up doing it. I was less comfortable. But the way I see it is that it’s a useful introduction to gambling – yes, it can be fun. But by playing the 2p machines it’s a chance for the children to learn about self-regulating and knowing when to stop and that, while you can win from a gamble, you mostly lose so it’s not about the winning it’s about enjoying the experience.

  7. Such a good point Donna. I have never thought of this. Many of us have played these kinds of games as children, and maybe that does foster an enjoyment for gambling. I think it’s fine if you also make sure that your children understand that money has to be earned before it can be spent.

  8. I think if your children or anyone else are playing on the machines for fun, rather than with the goal of winning money, then this counts as entertainment rather than gambling. You can give them £5 and tell them they can either keep it to spend on something that will last, or can spend it playing on machines. That way they will hopefully understand that money spent on machines could have been put to a better purpose.

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