Almost 50% of young people say they’re using gaming as a way of coping with the lock down. But with the line between online gaming and online gambling becoming even more blurred it’s time to look at the facts.

Key Points

  • Online gaming platforms are facing criticism for facilitating gambling behaviours

  • Percentage of 11-16 year olds participating in online gambling was 11% in 2019, down from 14% in 2018

  • PEGI now requires games to publish warnings on in-app purchasing

  • Increase in young people ‘skin betting’

  • Problem gambling can have serious impacts on the individual and their immediate families

  • In 2017/2018, 24% of all calls to GamCare were from people under 24 years old. The Gambling Commission reports that the gambling industry was worth £14.4 billion in 2018-9

Gambling is not often associated with children and young people, but alongside increased screen time, competitive gaming and in app purchases, It can have serious effects on mental health, family relationships and financial security.

Gambling with games

Most games offer in-app purchases that include ‘loot boxes’ which are prizes that often look like treasure chests.

‘Loot boxes’ are bought with real currency and are regarded as gambling because players cannot always see what’s in the boxes before they click buy – this introduces the element of chance which is central in gambling practice.

This means that users are unable to decide if their goods are worth the price being asked for and can encourage multiple purchases to ‘win’ the desired loot or to ‘recover loses’. The concern here is that not all young people will fully understand or calculate their chance or control how they spend their money.

Popular games that can contain Loot Boxes are; FIFA, League of Legends and Fortnite Battle Royale.

In 2019, MP’s called for in-game spending to be regulated by gambling laws. It was recently announced that PEGI ratings on in game purchases will apply to ‘loot boxes’.

PEGI (Pan European Gaming Information) is a game rating system used in 39 countries in the UK it’s overseen by the Video Standards Council – which is similar to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

The facts on gambling

Additional reporting from the commission found that:

  • 11% of 11-16-year olds had spent money on online gambling in 2019, down from 14% the previous year

  • 6% had gambled online using a parent or carers account

  • 69% of young people had seen gambling adverts on TV, 59% had seen them on social media

  • 7% of 11 – 16 year olds have been classified as ‘problem gamblers’ in 2018 (50,000 young people)

The rise of ‘skin betting’

Games with in-app purchases can also feature ad on virtual products called ‘skins’, which include in-game accessories, weapons, clothing or styles for avatars and characters within a game. These ‘skins’ are collected through opening loot boxes or paying money to unlock them.

These skins don’t affect how games are played, but they allow users to change the appearance and feel of the game. Skins can be traded with other players and used as a form of currency to bet on game outcomes.

30% of 13-18-year olds in the UK were aware of skin betting and 10% (nearly 450,000 young people) had taken part in skin gambling in some form.

The Commission has found that some websites have allowed the use of skins for illegal gambling, warning parents to be vigilant prompting them to report these activities to them. The BBC have reported one young person from Wales who lost over £2000.

We are very concerned…[we] would like parents and guardians to be vigilant – you could be giving money to [a] child thinking that they are buying computer games or in-game items when in fact they are using funds to gamble.”

(The Gambling Commission, 2019)

What does the law say?

The Gambling Act 2005 defines gambling as gaming, betting or participating in lotteries. Young people have to be at least 16 to take part in national lottery activities (including scratch cards) or football pools, but they must be 18 to enter betting shops, bingo halls, casinos and online gambling sites.

The Law and Young People

The law aims to protect young people from harm or exploitation from gambling activities and targeted advertising, by restricting targeted ads for under 18s. The Government is currently reviewing the 2005 Act and has described it as an ‘analogue law in a digital age’.

Following a Gambling Commission review into age verification procedures, new age verification laws were introduced in early 2020. The new rules require gambling operators to verify a customer’s age before they can deposit funds, redeem a free bet or play free betting simulations.


Gambling Commission- Gambling Safely: Guidance for Parents

GamCare- Support for Problem Gambling

Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust- Info on Youth Gambling

Useful Contacts

Gambling Commission – Confidential Intelligence Line (Reporting) (0121 230 6655)

National Gambling Helpline – 0808 8020 133 or Live Chat

NSPCC Adults Advice Line 0808 800 5000 & [email protected]

Childline 1-2-1 Chat & Childline helpline 0800 1111,

Family Lives (Formerly Parent line) 0808 800 2222 or [email protected]

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