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Pokemon Racketeers


Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 14, 1999

What serves as a basis for a good lawsuit today? Apparently not much. Lawyer Alan Hock and the Spiegler family announced that they plan to sue Nintendo on charges of illegal gambling and racketeering under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, for the Pok,mon card game.

If you've been in a hole in the ground and don't know what Pokemon is, it's a video game, a television show and a trading card game. Pokemon, short for "pocket monster," originated in Japan and one television episode actually caused more than 700 children to have epileptic seizures from the flashing lights the cartoon used.

With 150 characters and a cute little yellow creature named "Pikachu" as the main character, Pokemon has done extremely well with kids in America, but parents complain that their children are becoming too obsessed with the card game.

For $2.99, children receive 11 character cards, with a chance to own one of the more valuable cards that the company prints less of. Valuable cards are characters with a lot of "power" and have a lot of pull in the game.

The argument is that children who buy the packets for $2.99 can be let down if none of the cards are valuable. Some parents, at the child's demand, are paying up to $100 on the secondary market for individual cards.

Because of this "risk" the children take when they buy a package, parents and lawyers have labeled it gambling which is the basis of the lawsuit.

Hock said, "Make no mistakes about it - these kids are gambling. Our experts tell us that when the kids buy the cards, they act just like a gambler in a casino. They act nervously, they perspire, when they open the pack of cards, they squeeze them like a poker player trying to squeeze a flush. And worst of all, they can't stop."

Pokemon cards are no different than baseball cards. Kids who bought packages of baseball cards didn't expect to receive a Hank Aaron or Willie Mays rookie card in every package. What makes it fun is that not everybody has the same collection. Parents of the baseball card collectors didn't see this hobby as gambling, but part of growing up.

There's no denying that this child's game has been marketed very well. America is no stranger to that. We are still struck with the remnants of the Beanie Baby craze. Adults and children alike were foaming at the mouth to get a hold of a rare specimen that the TY company distributed, then immediately discontinued to drive up the collectors value. Pretty smart. Driving down roads, you can still see cardboard signs at intersections advertising Beanie Babies sold out of homes or from the back of trucks.

Fads get kids upset because they want the most and the best. GI Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Pogs have all come and gone. Pokemon will be no different than past fads and it won't leave kids permanently damaged.

Parents are setting a bad example by suing the company. They are not teaching that gambling is wrong; they are teaching that becoming a parasite and feeding off of others' success is OK.

Did it ever occur to the parents to talk about the issue with their children? Did it occur to them to say, "No, Timmy, you can't buy those cards"? Why don't they let the kids waste all of their own money to teach them a lesson? Or better yet, did it occur to the parents that if they spend more time with their kids, they wouldn't have as much time to enclose themselves in a fantasy world.

Apparently, these are not options, but suing is.

Kids will be faced with many addictive things in life. The success of Pokemon doesn't warrant a lawsuit, it should be a wake-up call to parents. They need to be aware that companies and advertisers specifically target kids. It's up to parents to break things down to their children. By teaching children about moderation and non-material happiness, it creates a better solution than filing a lawsuit does.

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