Irish Government Signs Declaration Over Gambling Loot Box Concerns in Online Games

An Irish government department has signed an international declaration expressing its concerns over the risks that gambling in popular video games can have on children.

A growing concern

Figures from researchers at the University College Dublin suggested that in 2015 people with gambling addictions may begin their habit as young as nine years old. According to one treatment expert, gambling addiction is “one of the most serious epidemics” that the country is facing.

Yet, with online gaming rising in popularity, younger people are finding themselves caught up in a world that could see them becoming problem gamblers in the future. As a result, the Gambling Policy Division of the Irish Department of Justice, in addition to authorities from 14 other countries, has signed a declaration voicing its concerns.

According to a report from The Irish Times, a law could be introduced that puts video games in the same gambling regulatory arena as online poker and bookmakers.

Signed at the Gaming Regulators European Forum, the declaration read: “Our authorities are committed to the objectives of their public policies with regard to consumer protection, prevention of problem gambling and ensuring the safety of under-age persons.”

In recent months the issue of loot boxes in online games has received increasing criticism.

In April, four game developers were told by the Dutch Gambling Authority (DGA) to fix illegal in-game loot boxes within eight weeks. An investigation by the DGA into 10 popular online games found that four of them had violated Dutch gambling laws.

This measure was shortly followed by the Belgium Gaming Commission, which declared that loot boxes in online games are illegal. It called for their removal.

Koen Geens, the minister of justice for Belgium, asked the BGC to investigate four specific games: Star Wars Battlefront II, Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

Geens stated that three of the four games were in violation of Belgium’s gambling laws. Only Star Wars complied with the laws. In a statement, Geens said: “Mixing games and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for mental health.”

The CEO of Electronic Arts (EA) and France’s gambling regulator, however, do not think loot boxes constitute gambling.

In recent news, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a betting brand ad for targeting children in an app. The ad is reported to have been Vegas games, with bookmaker William Hill the one in question.

The app, which has a suitable for all ages PEGI 3 rating, was found in New Mario Kart 8 Trick. William Hill argued that its app was used by 86% of players over the age of 18 and that it would “never knowingly target children.”

Concerns about skins betting

In addition to in-game loot boxes, the signed declaration also expresses concern over skins betting.

According to data from Juniper Research, loot boxes and skins betting will become a $50bn (£38bn) industry by 2022. This is up from below $30bn (£23bn) last year.

Skins are in-game cosmetics, which can change the appearance of weapons and characters in a game to advance their positions.

There has also been a call to regulate skins betting. A 2017 study by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) found that 11% of 11 to 16-year-olds in the UK had placed bets with skins. At the time, it noted that this meant around 500,000 children under the age of 15 could be using skins for gambling.

As a result, the Irish government is keen to look closely at video games to determine whether they are complying with Irish gambling law.

The declaration went on to say: “We anticipate that it will be in the interest of these companies whose platforms or games are prompting concern, to engage with [gambling] regulatory authorities to develop possible solutions.”