Gambling app trend
Over the Lunar New Year break, television viewers were subjected to a barrage of commercials about gambling apps and online casinos, endorsed by celebrities like television host Sam Tseng (曾國城) and actress Lin Mei-hsiu (林美秀); television variety show host Jacky Wu (吳宗憲); actors Jason Wang (王識賢) and Vicky Tseng (曾莞婷); and singer Jeannie Hsieh (謝金燕). It was enough to make viewers question whether gambling is actually illegal in this country.
The companies behind the apps are using these celebrities’ fame to improve their own takings, but of course the celebrities themselves are taking it all to the bank, too.
Watching these commercials made me think of a moment during the recent school winter vacation, when I saw a group of students standing outside a convenience store, each one playing a game on their smartphone.
For the most part, kids are playing combat or role-playing games, but it is not too much of a stretch to imagine some crossing over into the world of gambling apps or adult Web sites.
According to the news, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an explosion of business opportunities in the home entertainment sector, and games developers are one of the beneficiaries, with many providers, including of high-stakes gambling games, keen to get a slice of the pie.
According to market and consumer data platform Statista, the global online gambling games market last year was worth US$60 billion, while the App Annie games bestseller list shows that gambling apps have long accounted for 20 to 30 percent of the top 100.
Some will say that there is nothing illegal about gambling apps or online casinos, and that they are an emerging sector utilizing Internet technologies, providing entertainment for their users, and, yes, they do have a point.
According to App Annie data, the total revenue for the smartphone games sector in Taiwan is more than US$2 billion, and the past 11 months has seen 250 million downloads of such apps in the nation, of which the most popular have been puzzle games, with role-playing games already being one of the mainstays for gamers in Taiwan.
Clearly, smartphone game apps and online games do have their entertainment, technological and industrial economics value, but the gambling apps and online casinos are faring much better than other kinds, and Chinese providers have a propensity for using Taiwan as something of a testing station for their wares.
By this, together with the celebrity endorsements bolstering their popularity, one can only see online gambling going from strength to strength, and before long we could have Taiwan resembling a kind of Macau or Las Vegas.
Two decades ago, there was a popular advertising featuring a celebrity saying the immortal line: “What’s wrong with it, as long as I’m happy?”
This ad has much to answer for, and made life very difficult for educators, who had to counteract its negative impact.
Gambling apps and online casinos have a lot going for them: diversity, spectacular visuals, varied content, the thrill of combat and the ability to play them anywhere, any time, all backed up by celebrity endorsements.
It is a worrying trend, one that could cause family and social problems. The government and society might want to consider how to tackle the issue before it gets out of control.
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