MPs call for ‘lootbox’ ban to protect children from online gambling

A Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on immersive and addictive technologies backs addiction campaigners fears that in game purchases such as ‘loot boxes’ are putting children at risk of a gambling problem.

Joe Lepper | 12th Sep 19
Image of a child playing a mobile game. MPs have backed campaign group concerns that gaming add-ons and in app purchases such as ‘loot boxes’ are fueling a growth in gambling addiction among children.

MPs have backed campaign group concerns that gaming add-ons and in app purchases such as ‘loot boxes’ are fueling a growth in gambling addiction among children.

Members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DDCMS) Committee are calling on the loot boxes to come under gambling legislation and for measures to be put in place to ban their sale to children.

Last month not-for-profit campaigners Safer Online Gambling Group found that children spend on average between £500 and £600 a year on online gaming via mobile apps.

> See also: Children ‘at risk of gambling addiction’ through in-app purchases

This is often through so-called loot boxes, which the group said encourages gambling addiction among young people, including children as young as three.

Loot boxes are features in games where players can pay for random items. They are not currently regulated under gambling laws.

Among concerns raised by MPs, in their report on Immersive and addictive technologies, are to ensure that the games industry takes “responsibility to protect players from potential harms.”

There should also be an “industry levy to support independent research on long term effects of gaming”.

MPs also raise “serious concern” at the lack of an “effective system to keep children off age restricted platforms and games.”


Loot box fears

DDCMS Committee Chair Damian Collins MP said: “Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money. Their business models are built on this, but it’s time for them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users.

“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.

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

He added: “Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game play has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. It’s time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.

“Both games companies and the social media platforms need to establish effective age verification tools. They currently do not exist on any of the major platforms which rely on self-certification from children and adults.”


Addictive content

The MPs report has been welcomed by Safer Online Gambling Group Director Adam Bradford.

He said: “It is high time video games companies took responsibility for the highly addictive content they are putting in front of children. Our research this summer showed that this area is of serious concern to parents, with the average spend per young person estimated at £500-600 per year on these games, these practices are bankrupting young people before they become young adults.”