For children, the line between gaming and gambling can sometimes be fuzzy, which has recently become a cause for concern from both responsible gambling and child advocates.
In June 2022, an alliance of 15 child advocacy groups asked the federal government to investigate loot boxes. The move is part of a wider push by groups and regulators to protect children from being exposed to gambling behaviors early in child development.
Loot boxes are in-game chests, boosts, or items that offer a chance at getting rewards or skins for a player’s character. Opening the box can simulate pulling a lever at the slots. Players pay for the loot boxes with virtual currencies, which they buy with real money. Before You Bet (BeforeYouBet.org) has also discussed the concern about loot boxes in more detail in a past blog post.
This alliance is led by Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy. In an open letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the alliance asked for the federal government to launch an investigation into major video game publisher Electronic Arts over its sale of loot boxes in the soccer video game FIFA, which they said “unfairly exploits children and teens for profit.”
In its letter, the alliance cites many academic studies that say there is a connection between loot boxes and children developing a problem with gambling. “Research shows that there are connections between spending money on loot boxes and problem gambling in adolescents,” says the letter. “In some cases, young people who have already developed problem gambling behaviors seek out games with loot boxes; for others, loot boxes are a gateway to problem gambling.”
Several countries in Europe have launched investigations into the sale of loot boxes to minors. Both the Netherlands and Belgium have already banned selling loot boxes to kids, and in a past blog post Before You Bet covered a recent push in the U.K. to consider banning them there too.
Here in the United States, the FTC held a workshop about loot boxes in 2019, but they remain largely unregulated. It remains to be seen whether a federal investigation into loot boxes will be launched.
In the meantime, Change the Game Ohio can help with a wide range of tools and resources to help kids who might be exposed to gambling, including time management tips for children. There are also discussion guides that can help parents, caregivers, and educators talk to a child about responsible gaming and the risks of youth gambling. To find more free resources, visit ChangeTheGameOhio.org.