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Loot boxes have been defined as “features in video games which may be accessed through gameplay, or purchased with in-game items, virtual currencies, or directly with real-world money”. They often appear as chests, crates, or card packs.

Concerns have been raised about the structural and psychological similarities between loot boxes and gambling and that they can encourage children to gamble.

The Gambling Commission has said the Gambling Act 2005 does not cover loot boxes and it therefore cannot use any of its regulatory powers to take action. However, the Commission has also said it is concerned about the blurring of the line between video gaming and gambling.

In September 2019, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on immersive and addictive technologies. This called for regulations to be made to extend the 2005 Act to loot boxes. A July 2020 House of Lords Committee report on gambling harm also called for loot boxes to be brought within the scope of the Act.

Call for evidence into loot boxes and gambling-like behaviour (June 2020)

In June 2020, as part of its response to the DCMS Committee report, the Government announced that it would be launching a call for evidence into the impact of loot boxes on gambling-like behaviour. The call for evidence formed part of the Government’s wider Review of the Gambling Act (this ran from 8 December 2020 to 31 March 2021). The Government has not yet published its response to this review, although it is expected in the “coming weeks”.

Government response (July 2022)

The Government’s response to the call for evidence was published in July 2022. This reported that a range of potential harms associated with the purchase of loot boxes had been identified – eg mental health, financial and gambling-related harms. The risks of harm were likely to be higher for children and young people. However, academic research had not yet established a causal link between loot box spending and problem gambling behaviours. In its response, the Government said it wanted to see improved protections for children and adults:

  • purchases of loot boxes should be unavailable to all children and young people unless and until they are enabled by a parent or guardian.
  • all players, including children, young people and adults, should have access to and be aware of spending controls and transparent information to support safe and responsible gaming.

The Government also said there should be better research on the positive and negative impacts of video games to inform future policy making.

The Gambling Act would not be extended to cover loot boxes, although the Government would keep its position under review.

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