York Lecturer Gives Evidence in Lords Gambling Report

A University of York academic has given evidence in a House of Lords report that calls for the regulation of video game loot boxes. The House of Lords Gambling Committee have called for video game loot boxes to be be regulated as part of wide-ranging recommendations aimed at reducing gambling-related harm.

In written evidence presented within the report, Dr David Zendle, a lecturer in Computer Science at the University of York said the following:

“It may be the case that these things are linked because spending on loot boxes causes problem gambling. This is a credible explanation because loot boxes are very similar in many ways to gambling, and therefore may provide a gateway to it.

“However, it may alternatively be the case that this relationship exists because people who already have gambling problems are drawn to spend significantly more on loot boxes. This also makes sense.

“Problem gambling is characterised by uncontrolled excessive spending on gambling. Loot boxes share many similarities with gambling. It therefore makes sense that this uncontrolled spending may transfer to loot boxes too.”

Since 2005, the worlds of gambling and video games have become increasingly similar. Loot boxes are an example of a gambling-like experience which appears in various forms in popular video games such as Overwatch, FIFA, and Battlefield. They enable real currency to be exchanged for a form of randomised reward. In doing so, they incorporate mechanisms from traditional gambling in service of a young audience. 

The report, Gambling Harm: Time for Action, recognises the change in video game industry practices and the prevalence of games consoles and mobile devices since the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005. It calls for video game loot boxes to be classified as “games of chance”  — this would bring them under the remit of the Gambling Act 2005. 

This change would require video game companies to obtain a gambling license if they wish to include loot box mechanics within their games. Furthermore, PEGI, the rating system, would likely include ‘gambling’ as a rating description on video games which include loot box mechanisms. The recommendation aims to protect individuals from developing behaviours associated with problem gambling.

Problem gambling is defined as “gambling that disrupts or damages personal, family or recreational pursuits”. It is estimated that 55,000 11-16 year olds in Great Britain are problem gamblers.

Researchers at the University of York are leading efforts to study the relationship between loot boxes and problem gambling. A clear connection between loot boxes and problem gambling has been replicated across successive studies. However, the causal connection remains unclear.

The Government have indicated that a formal review will consider updating the Gambling Act 2005, as promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. In the interim, research efforts continue to focus on establishing the causal nature of the relationship between loot boxes and problem gambling.

Featured Image by UK Parliament