Children ‘at risk of gambling addiction’ through in-app purchases

The group Safer Online Gambling Group estimates that children spend £270m a year on gaming and app purchases.

Joe Lepper | 29th Aug 19
Image shows a young child on a mobile device

An increasing number of young people are at risk of gambling addiction through using in-app purchases and video game add-ons, according to charity campaigners.

Not-for-profit organisation The Safer Online Gambling Group surveyed 500 young people, aged between 11 and 18, and their families on their use of apps and games.

Parents said their children spend on average around £500 to £600 a year on online gaming via mobile apps.

If the results are extrapolated across the country this amounts to £270m a year on in-game spending by children, which the SOGG calls “disguised gambling.”

> See also: How charities are joining the fight to keep children safe online

This is often through so called ‘loot box’ games that the charity warns is encouraging young people to think about gambling within games and in later life. Children as young as three are able to access such add-ons, says SOGG.

Loot boxes are features in games where players can pay for random items, that can include weapons or sports stars.

The SOGG research also found that one in ten young people are accidentally spending money on app purchases and 95% use gaming apps on their mobile or tablet devices.

Casino style add-ons

“It is simply absurd that young people who are not even of legal age to place a bet are being exposed to gambling content and insidious addictive gaming from the age of three,” said Adam Bradford, SOGG.

“One case study told us that his child had been playing a maths game on his iPad and was then incentivised to level up the game and at the end of each level was rewarded with casino-lookalike chips into a digital wallet.

> See also: What are ‘digital ethics’ and why should charities care?

“The links between gaming and gambling need to be studied carefully and the gambling industry needs to make absolutely sure that its affiliates and marketing agencies are screening out young people from digital adverts so that those who are under-age for betting are not exposed to addictive content and enthralling free bet offers before they are even legally allowed to vote.”

Sogg has presented its research to government and is calling for in-game purchasing to be barred by default and ensure games do not mimic gambling websites.

Campaign group Internet Matters warned earlier this year that young people are at risk of becoming ‘lost in digital space’ through issues such as cyber-fraud, sexting and cyberbullying.