Saying A Happy Meal Toy Causes Problem Gambling Is A Real Whopper

Written By Martin Derbyshire on August 24, 2018 - Last Updated on November 26, 2021
McDonalds Happy Meal

The National Council on Problem Gambling and The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling are taking things too far by calling for McDonald’s restaurants to stop putting a Super Mario slot machine toy in its Happy Meals.

That is, unless cheeseburgers have suddenly been determined to be some kind of gateway drug.

Of course, no one can justifiably stand behind the idea of marketing gambling to children.

However, a Super Mario slot machine toy in a McDonald’s Happy Meal can hardly be considered marketing material for a casino.

McDonald’s is not a casino

The reason this is not an issue is that McDonald’s isn’t a casino or gambling establishment of any kind.

The chain is selling debatably unhealthy fast food, not slots and table games. Even the half a dozen McDonald’s restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip don’t have video slots.

Executive Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling Jennifer Kruse said the organization was shocked when it found the slot machine toy in a Happy Meal at a Florida McDonald’s.

She went on to say Nintendo and McDonald’s need to pay more attention to the messages their products are promoting to children. Kruse said kids can be very impressionable, and despite gambling restrictions for minors, research reveals adolescents are doing it. Plus, they are at a higher risk for developing gambling problems than adults.

Not a McDonald’s responsibility

While all this may be true, a toy is still a toy. Plus, the responsibility for preventing underage gambling and reducing problem gambling lies with casinos and the governments that authorize them, not fast food chains.

The problem, as Kruse sees it, is that there is a double standard in play here. She believes gambling represents the same threat to kids that alcohol, drugs, and tobacco does.

In fact, Kruse says if a Happy Meal toy featured Super Mario with bloodshot eyes holding a bottle of beer and smoking a cigarette, people would be up in arms. But since this one merely shows Super Mario playing a slot, no one cares.

Kruse is correct in saying that problem gambling is a growing public health issue in the US today. However, linking the issue to a Happy Meal toy with a slot machine is just too much of a stretch.

The WSOP mascot and marketing to minors

Earlier this year, When the World Series of Poker introduced Chippy, a six-foot-tall plush-foam stack chips mascot wearing over-sized novelty sunglasses, headphones, a crooked hat, and a gold-grilled perma-smile, it stunk of marketing gaming to minors.

The difference is that Chippy is there to market the WSOP and the game of poker. Skill game or not, poker is gambling, and plush foam mascots are for kids.

A toy is just a toy

Super Mario, Nintendo, McDonald’s restaurants and Happy Meals have nothing to do with gambling. A slot machine toy does very little to change that.

We can forget that gambling is perfectly legal and government sanctioned in close to half of 50 states. We can ignore the fact that there’s nothing really wrong with promoting it.

However, we can’t change the fact that a Happy Meal toy is just that. Or, that these problem gambling groups should probably pick their battles a little more carefully.

Photo by Ratana21 /

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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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