Gaming Loot Boxes: A Gateway To Addiction Gambling

The use of loot boxes in gaming is a route into gambling addiction. This is an issue we have covered several times in The Orkney News and most recently here: Student Views Sought On Gambling, Gaming & Crypto Currency

More research continues to add to the body of evidence of the use of loot boxes within games. For people who are not aware of what these are:

virtual item which can be redeemed to receive a randomised selection of further virtual items, or loot, ranging from simple customization options for a player’s avatar or character to game-changing equipment such as weapons and armor. A loot box is typically a form of monetisation, with players either buying the boxes directly or receiving the boxes during play and later buying “keys” with which to redeem them. These systems may also be known as gacha (based on gashapon – capsule toys) and integrated into gacha games.


Research done in Canada has shown that gamers who buy ‘loot boxes’ are up to two times more likely to gamble, please see  Addiction Research & Theory.

The people used for the research were all aged 18+ but loot boxes are also very tempting for young age groups and thus more likely to become addictive.

Researcher Sophie Coelho, a PhD student at York University, Toronto explained:

“Findings indicate that loot box purchasing represents an important marker of risk for gambling and problem gambling among people who play video games.

“The persistent associations we observed between loot box purchasing and gambling may provide preliminary support for the role of loot boxes as a ‘gateway’ to gambling and eventually problem gambling.

“Loot boxes may prime people to gamble and increase susceptibility to problem gambling.”

Click on this link to read more about this research: Loot box purchasing is associated with gambling and problem gambling when controlling for known psychological risk factors of gambling published in Addiction Research and Theory.

The UK’s Gambling Commission looked at the problem of loot boxes and children back in 2017. They looked at whether or not a loot box was gambling. In their investigations they found that parents “main concern is whether there is a product out there that could present a risk to their children. We are concerned with the growth in examples where the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred. Where it does meet the definition of gambling it is our job to ensure that children are protected and we have lots of rules in place, like age verification requirements, to do that.”

Parent Zone also produced a report The Rip Off Games (2019) – How the new business model of online gaming exploits children.

Despite resembling a lottery, loot boxes are not classified as gambling in the UK. So far, the UK Gambling Commission has accepted industry arguments that because the items inside are only used in the game, loot boxes shouldn’t be seen as gambling. There has also been no mention of this issue in the latest DCMS announcement on the Online Safety Bill.  

Other countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, and China, have taken a different view and moved to classify loot boxes as gambling or to restrict them. MPs and game developers have urged a similar reassessment here.


The office of the Children’s Commissioner of Scotland has also made comment on the problem issue of loot boxes as a gateway to addiction gambling. They looked at it in the light of the Covid lockdown and of Children’s Rights.

We draw the Committee’s attention to the work of the English Children’s Commissioner on the potential for economic exploitation of children (Article 32) through the monetisation of online gaming, including via “loot boxes” in which children gamble, using real money, in the hope of receiving additional content .
Some recommendations in the General Comment, for example ensuring automated search and recommendation systems do not prioritise paid content; ensuring automated systems can’t impact children’s emotions; and outlawing the targeting of children may be beyond the ability of States parties, given the globalised nature of the digital environment. We would suggest additional engagement with industry representatives and the World Wide Web Foundation to ensure recommendations made are achievable.

Click on this link to read what the Children’s Commission in England says about loot boxes: Loot boxes and gambling

The Children’s Commissioner believes that the Government should listen to children and parents to take firm action to prevent under-18s from buying loot boxes. Relying on voluntary industry action and on parental controls will leave many children exposed to the financial and psychological harms of loot boxes.

The UK Government’s response to loot boxes which falls short of regulating them as gambling can be found here: Government response to the call for evidence on loot boxes in video games

Legislation in the UK has fallen way behind what is actually happening as children and adults are tempted into using loot boxes within games.

serious man in wireless headphones using laptop
Photo by Eren Li on

Fiona Grahame

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