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Are Trading Card Games/Tabletop Games a Form of Gambling?

Governments (and parents) around the world are debating whether loot boxes are connected to gambling disorders in young kids and adults alike. These mystery boxes require players to pay a certain amount for the chance to receive a new player or item that will help them win the level or the game as a whole. While most countries still need to determine whether purchasing loot boxes is a form of gambling, some, such as Belgium, have banned loot boxes from video games because they decided it was a form of gambling.

As the purchase of loot boxes is debated, it begs the question: Should buying booster packs be considered a form of gambling, too? After all, these packs can be purchased in the hope that you will receive something rare or helpful, much like loot boxes in video games.

To determine the link between trading card games, such as Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering, we explain the definition of gambling and explore the mechanics of these games.

What Is the Definition of Gambling?

We cannot accurately describe the relationship between collectible card games and gambling without first examining the characteristics of gambling activities. Gambling must involve the exchange of money or valuable items in predicting a future event whose outcome is unknown and partly determined by chance. When gambling, winners will win at the expense of the loser(s), and losses can be avoided by not participating in the gambling behavior.

Now that we have a solid understanding of how gambling behaviors are defined, let’s look at how these criteria can be applied to the purchase of booster packs among trading card enthusiasts.

Does Purchasing Booster Packs Resemble Gambling Behavior?

Trading card game players are able to buy sealed packs of cards in the hope of gaining cards of value. When they purchase these booster packs, they have no idea which cards they will receive. For example, a player of Magic: The Gathering may buy and open a pack with a Mox Opal card, which is extremely helpful in the game and can even be resold for $100 or more, or they may get an unuseful and invaluable card like Memoricide. Purchasing booster packs for trading card games is truly a game of chance.

How does the purchase of trading cards resemble gambling activities? Let’s look back at the definition of gambling:

  • An exchange of money or valuable goods: Players must pay a certain amount ($3.99, $6.99, etc.) to get a booster pack.
  • The success of the exchange is unknown: Players have no idea which cards they will receive in their packs at the time of purchase.
  • Winners gain at the expense of losers: Players who get valuable trading cards in their booster packs gain an in-game advantage over those who did not receive valuable or useful cards.
  • A loss could be avoided: Finally, players could avoid a loss of money (when their cards are not useful or rare) by simply not buying booster packs.

From this overview, it’s clear there are some similarities between purchasing booster packs for collectible card games and gambling. However, it’s important to note that most trading card enthusiasts prefer to build their collection through playing and trading cards with other players rather than buying packs. Because of this, the gambling behaviors outlined above are often not present while play continues. It’s also essential to know that while research shows people with gambling problems repeatedly spend more money on loot boxes than their peers, no such evidence exists for trading card games.

Additionally, companies making booster packs do not advertise potential monetary gain with a purchase. In fact, it’s the players themselves who place intrinsic value on the cards, making a resale market for them. This differs from gambling at the casino or purchasing a lottery ticket because the governing body determines the monetary value of a win.

What to Do if You Suspect a Gambling Problem

Right now, purchasing booster packs and participating in trading card games is not legally considered a form of gambling. However, this may change in the future, especially as collectible card companies become more aggressive in their advertising strategies and these practices encourage gambling-like behavior.

The best way to avoid gambling problems is to be aware of the connections between gambling and trading card games and purchase booster packs in moderation.

If you or a loved one needs help overcoming gambling behaviors of any kind, you can receive support immediately by calling or texting our confidential helpline, 1-800-GAMBLER. Our staff can provide resources on recovering from a gambling problem and offer treatment options, including cognitive behavioral therapy for gambling. Contact us today to receive hope for the future.

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