Video Games and Gambling Problems: Should We Legislate Loot Boxes?

It’s long been debated whether video gaming, and specifically “loot boxes,” are a form of gambling and can lead to gambling problems. The debate is back in the news, after US Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., proposed legislation to restrict monetized video gameplay and loot boxes. This, Sen. Hawley says, would help to prevent consumers, especially children, from developing a gambling disorder.

He’s calling his bill, “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act.”[efn_note]

Let’s take a closer look at this issue and what the future may hold.

What Is a Loot Box and Why Is It Controversial?

If you’re not familiar with the virtual world, a loot box is a kind of digital treasure chest that you can pay actual money to unlock. The goal is to win a kind of virtual prize that will help or enhance your gaming experience.

Virtual goods in a loot box are randomized, so some say that paying to unlock a loot box is akin to placing a bet. In fact, a few countries, notably China,[efn_note][/efn_note]have chosen to treat loot boxes as gambling under the law. That has yet to happen in the US, where the video game industry disagrees that loot boxes qualify as gambling. The Entertainment Software Association already has spoken out against Sen. Hawley’s suggestions for legislative change.

The Link Between Loot Boxes and Gambling

Studies have shown a possible association between the amount of money spent on loot boxes and the severity of a gambling problem.[efn_note][/efn_note] Children and teens gravitate toward video games, and teen gambling in Atlantic City and across the country is a real issue,[efn_note][/efn_note] so the bill proposed by Sen. Hawley would prompt the Federal Trade Commission to impose tighter regulations on video game developers and limit how they attempt to monetize their games.

Opponents of the bill in the video game industry say that video games are safe for kids because the monetized features come with sufficient parental controls.

What’s Next?

The Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act is only a rough outline at this point, but it has drawn support from parental groups and further developments are likely forthcoming. Sweden also recently announced an investigation of loot boxes, so it’s looking like the debate over loot boxes is not going away anytime soon, anywhere in the world.

If you’re concerned that your child is too heavily invested in video games or has exhibited signs of developing a gambling problem, CCGNJ can help. Our 24/7 confidential helpline offers support to anyone struggling with disordered gambling, whether it’s internet gambling, skill-based gambling in Atlantic City or sports betting throughout the state of New Jersey. Call us anytime for support, treatment, and hope.


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