For Family Fun.. Teach Your Children to Gamble

May, 1999

Greetings ace-high sharpshooters!

It's June. We all know what this means. Our kids are paroled from school for the summer, and it's our job as parents to provide for their summer education and entertainment. It is especially important to raise our next generation with an eye to the future, giving them the tools to make their way through the rocky shoals and rough seas of life. We need to expose them to the world cautiously, giving our own offspring a chance to experience life as it really is. Things like.... gambling, warfare, and of course..... sex.
Where do we take our children for such things? Do we lead them to the inner city to a bordello or some gang-infested neighborhood? Do we make a side trip to some floating casino for a game of blackjack or video poker? Why ..... no! We don't even need the Internet for this. We simply go to our local family fun center. Yes! Right near my house is a training ground for the future generation, complete with the following: indoor rides like a merry-go-round and bumper cars for the kids, bowling for mom and dad, and of course the video arcade/ prize gallery.
In the arcade we find some of the old games we remember, like skee-ball and pinball and such, along with some "new attractions" such as realistic "blood and guts" shoot 'em up action adventure games, coin -op 3-D games honoring the occult, and games of skill such as video blackjack and poker. Available to all ages on a Saturday afternoon. Family fun.
These arcades are furnished and decorated and the game machines are arranged just like the video poker and slot machines in most Las Vegas casinos. The only difference is that instead of a cashier window in the middle of the room, the arcade has a "prize counter," where "prize tickets" are redeemed for toys, action figures and comic books. How do the kids get the prize tickets? By winning the games of skill and chance, of course. If you can beat the dealer at video blackjack or poker, or drop your game token down a slot at the right time, you can score lots of tickets. What better way to explain to your children the blackjack 5.9% dealer's edge, or the rule of twenty ( in blackjack, there are 1326 possible two-card combinations leading to the score of twenty. There, now you know.) Then, after that mathematics lesson, you can drop some tokens into another machine, hand your children an electronic gun, and let them shoot the bad guys/monsters/dinosaurs/whatever. But don't worry. These games are protected by a ratings system. Some are rated "mild violence" and "some sexual content." Some even give a positive message after the bloodbath, saying things like: "reduce, reuse, recycle" or "winners don't use drugs", thus reinforcing the messages they get at home and at school. So we are all safe. Hardly.
I walked with my two sons (ages four and six) through the arcade. Dozens of other children of similar ages were playing all the games. My older son could not walk more than five feet within that arcade without becoming mesmerized by some game. This is the same boy that can ride a playground merry-go-round and read a book at the same time. It seems to me that everything in that arcade is designed to grab a child's attention and overload his senses. It is almost as if the gaming industry is trying to start a new crop of gamblers here, kind of like the tobacco industry and "Joe Camel."
Folks, don't get me wrong on this. I am not against all video games or "family fun centers." There are a lot of fun (and harmless) video games in arcades everywhere, and there are plenty of good arcades for our children to visit (when accompanied by us). There are games that simulate motorcycle and car racing, skiing and even riding a wave runner. There is pinball, skeeball (my favorite!) and bowling, among dozens of others. We just have to be very careful about what we expose ourselves and our children to, including the food.
If only there were an antidote for the pizza.........

Gotta go, my Pepcid I.V. is running out.