The Connection Between Video Games and Online Gambling

You don’t necessarily need to play at online casinos or place bets at online sportsbooks to partake in online gambling. Video games are coming under increasing scrutiny for their similarity to online gambling, as a result of their addictive nature and encouragement of in-game spending. In 2018, a petition calling for the Government “to adapt gambling laws to include gambling in video games” received nearly 17,000 signatures. While, in the past, we might have considered games such as FIFA, Call of Duty and Fortnite as just another form of entertainment, with over 37 million people video games players in the UK, they might bear more resemblance to online casino games than we thought. But how exactly do video games resemble other forms of online gambling? Casino Genius explores the link and the potential impacts of these similarities.

Similarities to gambling

While UK reports have found that video games aren’t legally classed as gambling, there are several factors that link the two. Loot boxes within video games have come under the most scrutiny, with many comparing the purchase of these boxes (be that with real-money, virtual currency or in-game items), to betting on online casino games, as what you get comes down entirely to chance. The Electronic Software Association (ESA) reiterated to Polygon that loot boxes are “entirely optional to purchase”, but the same could be said for online casino games – players could just play free demo games. However, it’s the temptation of the potential to win or progress in the games that entices players to buy them. In these situations, it’s not a lack of choice that’s the problem. Rather, it’s the ‘lucky dip’ notion of paying for an item without knowing what it is. This is reminiscent of the functionality of casino games that don’t entail any skill, and it is this lack of control that is the problem.

Online leaderboards create a sense of competition that encourages players to play just one more round in the hope that an unlucky streak will come to an end. This might push players to make in-game purchases of weapons and armour in a bid to strengthen their performance and succeed over other players. However, with no prior knowledge of the value of these items, and without knowing whether other players are doing the same and receiving higher value items, these purchases may bring no benefit to gameplay. As a result, players may be tempted to make another purchase in an attempt to get lucky and outdo their opponent. It’s this sense of competition that is comparable to gambling in its habit-forming nature, as players take their chances with a mystery item that may or may not be of use to them. It goes without saying that luck won’t always be on the side of these players and that they could spend time, and money, they don’t have on something that was, perhaps, never going to happen.

Regulation of video game gambling

Whereas UK licensed gambling operators are held to high standards when it comes to protecting potentially vulnerable players from developing unhealthy gambling habits, video games are not subject to the same regulation. The UKGC requires operators to implement responsible gambling measures, such as time limits and deposit and loss limits, as part of its licence conditions, but such regulation doesn’t apply to video games.

That isn’t to say that video games don’t undergo an individual testing process, but that gambling and the protection of players from this in-game gambling, is not the focus of these tests.

Do video games expose young people to gambling?

A key difference between video games and online gambling platforms is that it’s harder to verify a player’s age and identity when buying games, and there are no age restrictions at all on in-game purchases. While you’ll need to undergo a thorough identity check, known as a Know Your Customer (KYC) check, at online gambling sites, such checks aren’t performed for video game players. New, stricter age verification guidelines are coming into play at online gambling sites on 7th May, but these don’t apply to video games. Of course, PEGI age ratings do control who can buy these games in store, but customers needn’t verify their age when making online purchases, and it’s pretty common practice for parents to buy these games as gifts for their own children. Not all games are exclusively available to players aged 18 and over either, with games such as Fortnite rated 12+ yet still offering players the option of in-game purchases. Even those aged 15 to17 playing PEGI-rated 15 video games are under the UK’s legal gambling age of 18, but these games still contain loot boxes and encourage habit-forming tendencies.

A 2018 UKGC report found that 31% of young people aged 11 to 16 have paid money or gambled in-game currencies or items for loot boxes. While the Commission ‘identified loot boxes as a potential risk to children and young people’ in 2017, it did reiterate that the presence of them in games did not contradict UK gambling laws.

Video gaming addiction

Gambling addictions have been recognised as health conditions for years but, until recently, have been almost exclusively associated with casino gameplay or betting. However, in 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) formally recognised Gaming Disorder as a mental health condition, demonstrating the potential dangers of playing video games. This begs the question as to whether video games should be subject to more stringent testing and guidelines, similar to those for gambling operators.

Research into gamification

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee is conducting an inquiry into the growth of “immersive and addictive technologies” with the aim of advising the government on how to protect the public from potentially negative effects of “gamification”. The inquiry will look into the development of technologies as a whole, but will focus on the links between gaming and gambling as a key point, seeking to answer the question: “What are the effects of in-game spending […] and does it need stronger monitoring or regulation?” Still in its early stages, the inquiry is currently collecting evidence for review from a number of different sources, having already obtained opinions from Runescape designers, Snapchat and gamers.

The UK inquiry is still underway and public support for tighter regulation on video gaming is still evident, but how the country will address concerns regarding the link between video games and gambling is not yet clear. While Japan, Belgium and the Netherlands have implemented regulation to control loot boxes in video games, the UK is yet to take similar action. While the UKGC has said that, by law, video games are not gambling, it is investigating the increasingly blurred lines between the two to help protect young people from the potential dangers.