A new report has claimed that the number of children classed as having a gambling problem has quadrupled to more than 50,000 in just two years.
The study, compiled by the Gambling Commission, suggests that 450,000 children aged 11 to 16 bet regularly, and that the video game industry’s penchant for loot boxes is at least partly to blame.
Bishop of St Albans Right Reverend Alan Smith labelled the issue a “generational scandal”, saying that the study’s findings made for “worrying reading” and should serve as a warning to parents.
The report found that over the last 12 months, 39% of 11-16 year olds have spent their own money on gambling and 14% in the previous week, while 13% admitted to playing gambling-style games online.
Gambling Commission executive director Tim Miller said:
There’s no doubt that today’s figures on children and gambling should make people sit up and listen. But while discussions about children gambling might conjure up images of kids sneaking into bookies or sitting alone on their iPad gambling on an online casino, our latest research paints a more complex picture. The most common activities that children gamble on are not licensed casinos, bingo providers or bookies. Instead we found children preferred to gamble in informal environments, out of sight of regulation – private bets between friends or playing cards with their mates for money.
As you might expect, the commission raised concerns that nearly a million young people had had their first experience with gambling thanks to loot boxes, either in video games or on smartphone apps.
Three in 10 young people (31%) revealed they’d opened loot boxes in a computer game or app, to try to acquire in-game items, while 3% claimed to have bet with in-game items. You’re probably aware of this practice as “skins gambling”, something Valve had to crack down on pretty hard over the last few years.
One of the questions the report raises in going forward to try and combat this issue is an increased awareness of loot boxes. Thankfully, steps do seem to be being taken across the world to try and regulate loot boxes, and address the negative effects they could have on young people.
The Belgian Gaming Commission, for example, recently declared the practice illegal and had games like Star Wars Battlefront 2, FIFA 18, and Overwatch remove loot boxes from their games in Belgium, or else publishers would risk a hefty fine and up to five years in prison.
You only need to look at the millions of dollars which are spent each year on FIFA Ultimate Team card packs to see that it might be a problem, especially since these randomised packs aren’t really age-gated in any way.
You’d be hard pressed to find a gamer that actually enjoys the idea of loot boxes, as the practice is often maligned by gamers and seen as a huge negative whenever a loot box of any kind appears in a video game.
With this new report indicating that the practice could be linked to a rise in child gambling, we can only hope that more decisive steps are taken to stop kids from getting access to them quite so easily.
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Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.