4.4 Why talk about gaming and gambling?

Gambling participation is increasingly shifting online, and the distinctions between gaming and online gambling are no longer as clear-cut. This has led to international concern. In 2018, the Gambling Commission signed an international declaration of gambling regulators, committing themselves to investigating the issue, and highlighting their concerns, including:

…Controversies relating to skin betting, loot boxes, social casino gaming and the use of gambling themed content within video games available to children.

We address gaming and gambling in this toolkit for three reasons:

  • 1. Psychological and behavioural similarities

    Video games and gambling games have important psychological similarities. For example, both often use ‘variable reinforcement ratios’ to reward players. Behaviours are learned more quickly when the rewards are randomised – the player could potentially win at any time, but they never know quite when.1

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    2. Similar risks and harms associated with excessive play

    Excessive gaming or gambling can lead to harmful patterns of play, and gaming or gambling disorders.2

  • 3. Gamblers may be more likely to be gamers, and vice versa

    In young people aged 16-24, some evidence indicates that people who gamble are more likely to play video games, and gamers are more likely than non-gamers to gamble.3

Awareness and attitudes towards gaming and gambling

The Gambling Commission does not currently consider in-game purchases, including loot boxes, to fall under the UK government’s gambling laws.4 However, due to concern about increasingly blurred lines between video games and gambling, their 2019 report on young people and gambling included information on gaming for the first time.

In young people aged 11-16:5

  • 52%

    have heard of in-game items such as loot boxes
    (66% of boys, 37% of girls)

  • 13%

    have heard of skins betting,
    and awareness increases with age
    (6% of 11 year olds vs 17% of 16 year olds)

Our own 2022 report found that among Scottish young people aged 11 to 26:6

  • Over half

    have opened a loot box
    in a game (60%)

  • More than 4 in 5

    respondents think young people should have a say
    on laws around gambling and gambling-like game features (84%)

  • Feelings

    about loot boxes were neutral
    with the same proportion saying they 'don't like them at all' as 'like them a lot' (9%)

In 2019, the Royal Society of Public Health published a report on the views of young people aged 11 to 24 on the links between gaming and gambling. They found that:7

Gambling-like gaming features are seen as ‘normal’

9 out of 10 (90%) believe that buying loot boxes is normal for young people, and almost 7 out of 10 (67%) believe it’s normal for peers to take part in skins betting.

We need to stop acting like repeated gambling is normal and healthy for teens when it is destructive and should be viewed like drugs and alcohol.

Young person, aged 15-17

Young people think loot boxes and skins gambling could be addictive

Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) say that young people could find loot boxes addictive, and 7 in 10 (69%) say that skins betting could be addictive.

When I was 13, I spent all my birthday money on packs on FIFA and then starting to use my mum’s card to buy more when that had gone. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop. I’d spend all my time thinking about when I could next get a pack. It’s so easy to get caught up in – I was definitely addicted.

Young person, aged 14

Young people think playing video games could lead to gambling

Over half (55%) believe that playing a mobile or video game could lead a young person to gamble.

Loot boxes and packs ingrain a betting culture into young players. I believe this would make them to be more likely to be affected with a gambling addiction in the future and this is what I believe caused myself to spend excessive amounts on online betting.

Young person, aged 22-24