Lootboxes: Advice to the Gambling Commission from ABSG
Links to current harmful behaviour
There is evidence suggesting a correlation between lootbox exposure and problem gambling.1617 A survey of 16-to-18-year-olds, using correlational analysis, found evidence of a link between lootbox spending and problem gambling. This link was more than twice as strong in its effect than links found in previous studies in an adult population. It was particularly strong in those in the sample classified as ‘problem gamblers.’
Another recent study of an older age group (16-to-24-year-olds) found that lootbox purchasers were more likely to have engaged in gambling activities in the last year. The odds of being classified as a problem gambler were 4.4 times higher amongst those who purchased lootboxes compared with those that did not18. This association between lootboxes and problem gambling for this cohort was of a similar magnitude as for those who took part in online casino games or slots.
Without further longitudinal analysis, however, it is not possible to determine the directions of causality i.e., whether play with lootboxes is causing problem gambling in this population or whether children with an existing problem are suffering greater harm as a result of the additional opportunities presented by lootboxes to spend money on games of chance. Research is also unclear on which communities or people may be particularly at risk, beyond general trends in relation to gender and age.
These findings all indicate an association between lootboxes and problem gambling. The direction of causality is not clear, but the evidence of a strong association is sufficient to support concern about their harmful effects and to suggest that young people participating on lootbox purchases should be considered as a high-risk of experiencing gambling harms.
These correlations are not surprising. The absence of money’s worth prizes means that lootboxes are not captured by the legal definition of gambling – but from the consumers perspective they share the speculative features of gambling. Online items have meaningful value to consumers who increasingly socialise, work, and interact online.
16 The Relationship Between Distance from Gambling Venues and Gambling Participation and Problem Gambling Among U.S. Adults (opens in a new tab), Welte et al, Journal of Gambling Studies, 32, 2016
17 Quinte longitudinal study of gambling and problem gambling (opens in a new tab), Williams et al, University of Lethbridge, 2015
18 Lootboxes, Gambling, and Problem Gambling Among Young People: Results from a Cross-Sectional Online Survey (opens in a new tab), Heather Wardle and David Zendle, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, October 2020
Summary of key points Next section
Links to future harmful gambling
Last updated: 13 August 2021
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