Slot machines have become a Christmas hit

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Toy slot machines have become one of this year's Christmas hits and are said to be selling like hot cakes at Sparky's. Priced at 700 crowns apiece they are miniature copies of the real machines with one small exception - they are filled with coloured chips instead of real coins.

While parents are queuing up at Sparky's, child psychologists are ringing alarm bells, saying that children who get hooked on the game could one day be more vulnerable to the real thing. And they wouldn't have to look far for an arcade - the Czech capital is known to have one of the densest networks of casinos and arcades in Europe. Over the past fifteen years thousands of Czechs have turned into compulsive gamblers and some smaller towns have even started banning slot machines in pubs, on the grounds that gamblers increase the crime rate in the region. The controversy over the suitability of slot machines as toys for children as young as three, has now made front page headlines, but Sparky's maintains that there's nothing unethical about it. The store's management points out that the same concerns could be voiced about toy guns and action-based computer games that involve violence. At the end of the day it's up to the parents to decide whether or not a given toy can harm their child's development, Sparky says. And judging by the rate at which slot machines are being sold in their Prague outlets, Czech parents are not worried. So the sound of slot machines is going to be heard around many Czech Christmas trees this year. For many parents this may be an unwelcome reminder that this year's Christmas shopping has left them deeper in debt than ever.