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Should loot boxes be classed as gambling?

Written by: Emma Lunn
Calls for changes to gambling laws as children’s in-game spending gets out of control.

There needs to be tighter rules to protect kids who spend money on “loot boxes” online with no idea of what the rewards will be, according to the Children’s Commissioner.

A report by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, calls for the government to amend the Gambling Act to classify loot boxes in games such as FIFA as gambling.

A loot box is an in-game purchase consisting of a virtual container that awards players with items, players or modifications based on chance.

Longfield’s report Gaming the system also suggests introducing a maximum daily spend limit in all games which feature in-game spending or loot boxes and turned on by default for children.

Longfield added that games distributed online should be subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system the same as physical games sold in shops.

Keeping up with peers

The Children’s Commissioner’s Office commissioned the research company Revealing Reality to speak to groups of children who play online games like FIFA, Fortnite and Roblox about what they love and what worries them about gaming, both to shine a light on their experiences and to inform policy recommendations.

It found many children are spending money on in-game purchases because they feel they have to in order to keep up with friends or to advance in the game.

This spending can be hundreds of pounds, done without any real idea of what the rewards will be, and leaving children feeling like they are gambling.

Some of the children who play FIFA told the Children’s Commissioner’s Office that they are aware that the odds of receiving good players are very low, but were still gambling anyway and spending money on packs. In some cases, children can lose control of their spending on loot boxes and attempt to chase losses by spending more.

A form of gambling

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “With 93 per cent of children in the UK playing video games, it is vital that the enjoyment they get comes with tighter rules that protect them from straying into gambling.

“Playing games online can be rewarding and exciting and help children to develop strategic skills and friendships, but they are also open to exploitation by games companies who play on their need to keep up with friends and to advance to further stages of a game by encouraging children to spend on loot boxes.

“Children have told us they worry they are gambling when they buy loot boxes, and it’s clear some children are spending hundreds of pounds chasing their losses. I want the government to classify loot boxes in games like FIFA as a form of gambling. A maximum daily spend limit for children would also be reassuring for parents and children themselves.”

Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, supported the calls for laws to be tightened.

She said: “Compulsory PSHE classes in all secondary schools from 2020 will go some way to teach children and young people the importance of mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience, as well as addressing issues such as bullying and online harms. Councils are keen to ensure the new curriculum helps schools to identify issues early and that children and young people can access support when they need it.

“However, government reductions to councils’ public health budgets has limited their ability to invest in essential support services such as school nurses and gambling support services. In addition to introducing new legislation, the Government should ensure councils have the resources they need to provide appropriate education and support to parents, schools and across the wider children’s workforce.”

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