A new UK report does not find a link between youth gambling and loot boxes

Contrary to a flurry of media reports, the Report of Young People and Gambling doesn't point to loot boxes.

A widely-publicized new report by the UK Gambling Commission does not purport to link youth gambling to videogame loot boxes, the commission said.

Earlier this week, the Commission published a report titled Young People and Gambling, which examines trends in youth gambling. It includes some sobering figures: 14% of 11-16 year old youth in the UK said they had spent their own money on gambling in the week prior to the survey, and over the past year, 39% said they had gambled with money.

Among the statistics listed in the report’s top-level summary is a bullet about videogame loot boxes: 31% of teenagers surveyed said they had opened loot boxes in either a game or mobile app.

But contrary to a number of media accounts that suggested the commission had found that loot boxes were a “gateway drug” to gambling, the report did not find a link between youth gambling and loot boxes – in fact, it wasn’t even looking for one.

“We’ve not in any way, in the survey, referred to [loot boxes] as exposure to gambling,” a commission spokeswoman told GamesIndustry.biz.

UK law considers gambling to be playing a game of chance for either money or something worth money, and so far, British courts have determined that loot boxes do not meet this definition. The Gambling Commission’s new report focused on activities that are viewed as gambling by law in the UK, and it found the most popular gambling activities among youth are private bets, scratchcards, slot machines, and card games. Only 3% reported ever betting with in-game items in videogames.

Kids tend to see gambling advertised on TV (66% of respondents), and social media (59%), and many have seen their parents gamble (26%).

The Young People and Gambling report does include data on young people’s awareness of loot boxes and skin gambling, but it doesn’t make any claims or show any evidence that these are driving a trend in the UK.

As it happens, the trend in youth gambling is downward. Fourteen percent of youth surveyed for the report had gambled in the past week, which is higher than 12% in 2017 – but both those figures are down significantly from the 23% reported in 2011.

However, concern over the influence of loot boxes persists, and a Gambling Commission spokeswoman tells PCGamesN that it has teamed up with 15 gambling regulators in Europe and the State of Washington “to call on videogames companies to address the clear public concern around the risks gambling and some videogames can post to children.”