4.6 Gaming and gambling: A harmful connection?

In Section 4.2, we identified some of the risks of disordered gaming. In this section, we look at the particular risks that the connection between gaming and gambling presents for young people and families.

Children and young people are regularly exposed to gambling-like features in games – so much so that they see buying loot boxes and skins gambling as ‘normal’.1 This has prompted concern, as research indicates that there are links between purchasing loot boxes and disordered gambling in young people.

Young people experiencing harmful gambling are more likely to purchase loot boxes. They are also more likely to spend heavily.2

  • Over half of industry revenue from loot boxes comes from 5% of spenders
  • Almost 1/3 of the top 5% spenders meet the criteria for harmful gambling

A 2021 review commissioned by GambleAware found that:3

"Relationships between loot box engagement and ‘problem gambling’ have been robustly verified in around a dozen studies.

Currently, it is not clear whether loot boxes can cause harmful gambling, or whether loot boxes allow the gaming industry to profit from young people already experiencing gambling harms. However, this connection shows that the two behaviours are psychologically similar.

Loot boxes have also come under fire in the media in recent years. Cases include young people purchasing loot boxes using their student loans,4 or their parent or caregiver's card details,5 spending large sums of money they cannot afford.

Sale of loot boxes has been age restricted or banned in some countries, including China, Belgium, and the Netherlands. At present, loot boxes are not considered to be a form of gambling in the UK. At the time of writing, the UK Government was reviewing its policy on loot boxes as part of its wider review of gambling laws in the UK.