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NHS call to ban gaming ‘loot boxes’

NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch is calling on gaming companies to crack down on gambling addiction risks by banning loot boxes from their products.

Ms Murdoch has warned video game firms that they risk ‘setting kids up for addiction’ by building gambling tasks into their games.

Latest figures from the Gambling Commission show 55,000 children are classed as having a gambling problem and the NHS estimates there are around 400,000 people with a serious gambling problem in England.

According to NHS England, more than half of UK parents allow their children to play video games intended for people aged 18 or over, without supervision or having played the game themselves.

While 86% of parents believed playing games aimed at people aged 18 or over would have no influence on their children but 62% of parents ended up trying to take games back from their kids after they noticed a problem.

Concerns have also been raised about children playing video games which involve spending significant amounts of money – often without parents’ knowledge or consent – on so-called ‘loot boxes’, which are virtual collections of in-game purchases and other add-ons.

To progress in the game, players can collect extra items and content, but do not know what items they will be given until they’ve paid – which encourages users to keep spending and playing.

Investigations have found numerous cases of children spending money without their parents’ knowledge, including a 16-year-old paying £2,000 on a basketball game and a 15-year-old losing £1,000 in a shooting game.

In response to growing concerns about addiction to gaming, the NHS has confirmed the opening of a new treatment centre, alongside up to 14 new NHS gambling clinics nationwide, to address significant mental ill-health linked to addiction.

Ms Murdoch is calling on gaming companies to ban sales of games with loot boxes that encourage children to gamble, introduce fair and realistic spending limits to prevent people from spending thousands in games. Make clear to users what percentage chance they have of obtaining the items they want before they purchase loot boxes and support parents by increasing their awareness on the risks of in-game spending

She said: ‘Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.

‘Young people’s health is at stake, and although the NHS is stepping up with these new, innovative services available to families through our Long Term Plan, we cannot do this alone, so other parts of society must do what they can to limit risks and safeguard children’s wellbeing.’

The Gambling Commission does not regulate some loot boxes due to a loophole meaning it is not classed as gambling under current gambling legislation because there is no official way to monetise what is inside of loot boxes.

Third-party websites selling gaming accounts and rare items are also commonplace and easy to find on places such as eBay across the internet.

One game even launched a virtual casino which lets players invest real money to gamble on games such as blackjack and poker. Players are unable to convert any winnings from the casino back into real money, creating a cycle of gambling hard cash in a virtual world.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, psychiatrist and founder of CNWL’s National Problem Gambling Clinic said:

‘As the Director of the National Centre for Gaming Disorders, the first NHS clinic to treat gaming addiction, I am fully in favour of taking a public health approach and bringing in a regulatory body to oversee the gaming industry products currently causing great concerns to parents and professionals.

‘Loot boxes are only one of several features that will need to be investigated and indeed researched. We need an evidence-based approach to ensure our young people and gamers, in general, do not continue to be subjected to new and increasingly harmful products without our intervention.’

Phot Credit – Pixabay

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