Gaming and Gambling – the similarities and differences

Gaming and gambling have become more and more intertwined. This week, we talk to Marc Skinner  about the relationship between gambling and gaming. Marc is our Youth Outreach Officer for North Wales – to get in touch please see here.

Starting young at gambling and gaming

Hands up all those people that have children who play computer games? Or maybe you’re a gamer yourself?

I know I was. I started when I was young. Maybe 8 or 9 years old. My older brother was looking after me one summer when my parents were at work. He took me to the local gaming hall and I remember my jaw dropping to the floor. This was the 1980’s and all those bright lights and sounds sucked me into a world of spending joy, where my pocket money got converted to 10p’s and started to burn a hole in my shorts.

Of course, in those days gaming halls also had slot machines mixed together in the same room as the “Arcade machines”. My friends called slot machines “bandits” and I lost enough money on them early on to figure they called them that for a reason. The gambling side of things wasn’t for me, even when the change in my pocket was running out.

Becoming lost in gaming

But Gaming? Well, that was a different story. I LOVED it! And If my money did run out, I would simply stand and watch the other kids play. They thought I was queuing for a go. So when their turn ended and they asked “who’s next” I would respond with “Sorry I’m just watching”. Some of the priceless blank looks I received could best be described as confused nervousness.

Still. I didn’t care. I was lost in the moment. Lost in a world of flashing lights and boom box sounds wrapped up in an artificial computer intelligence which seemed space age in comparison to those consoles at home which only had Pac Man and Space Invaders. Boring!

Changing technology and its impact on gaming and gambling

Except, guess what? Technology changed. Computers became cheaper, microchips smaller, more powerful and faster. Over time, those “boring” home consoles ended up becoming better than the arcade machines! Today’s graphics, sound and gameplay have a way to totally immerse you in a world that is both believable and exciting. I guess that’s why 93% of kids aged 11-16 regularly play games averaging 39 days a year gaming!

For most gamers, both children and adults, the more time you spend in a particular game, the more the game rewards you. However, for some people this can easily get out of hand. In the UK, 3% of gamers spend 15 hours PER DAY gaming! Some people might start skipping school or work, struggle to concentrate on things and become snappy and argumentative. For others, they might even start skip meals, washing themselves and even sleep. For these people, they could be developing a gaming disorder.  If you know someone like this or if this someone is you then it might be worth talking to someone about it. Ara provide free help and support – see details at the bottom of this page.

Online Gaming: Loot Boxes and Microtransactions

And of course, these days it seems everything is online. Computer games are no different. Initially, being online allowed game developers the chance to fix bugs in their games. But then, someone came up with an idea; Why don’t we sell little items to people in the games they play?

So guess what? They did. The games companies started to sell items to people for small amounts of money. This is often called a “microtransaction”. However, games companies discovered that they might be able to make more money. What if they could get gamers to spend money on opening up a box which gives you a random gift in return? Sure, it might not be exactly what you wanted, but people might come back again trying to “win” the item the do want. Sounds a bit like gambling right? This is what is known as a LOOT BOX.

And don’t be left thinking that loot boxes are not widely available. They are present in the vast majority of games, including the most popular games such as FIFA, Fortnite and Call of Duty.

Gambling and Gaming Overlap

The problem is, Loot Boxes mechanics are very similar to gambling. Some gamers, both young and old, will sit and open loot boxes for hours on end trying to “win” a specific prize, having been immersed into a virtual world where these items are prized and hold great strength, improving your gameplay experience no end.

And another problem, many gamers don’t realize that because loot box mechanics closely replicate gambling, then they can become addicted to opening them. The news is littered with stories of people ringing up hundreds if not thousands of pounds of debt due to a Loot Box addition. And because Loot Boxes do not have an age restriction on them, young children are also exposed to the risks.

But before I go, consider this final thought: In the UK, 40% of children aged 11-16 have opened loot boxes. There is no age restriction in place to regulate against this.  In 2020 the House of Lords commented that: “Young people who spend money on loot boxes are more than 10 times as likely to be problem gamblers than those who do not”.  For many gamers, parents and children, they often fail to fully understand the dangers and risks that loot boxes pose. It could well be that be that gamers might be sleepwalking into gambling problems without anyone ever realizing it.

Free, confidential help and support for problematic gaming and gambling

Who are Ara Gambling Service?

Ara Gambling Service provides free, confidential advice for anyone struggling with problem gambling. This includes 1:1 counselling for gamblers and affected others in Wales and the South West of England.

How can I get help for my gambling or a loved one’s gambling?

To get in touch, call us on 0330 1340 286 or visit our Get Support page.

More information about getting in touch can be found here: Gambling Help

The National Gambling Helpline, run by GamCare, can be contacted 24 hours a day on 0808 8020 133