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Gambling Commission report decries skin gambling, but not loot boxes

Great Britain’s Gambling Commission did not call loot boxes gambling or a gateway to gambling in a new report, the body have stressed after some media coverage of it claimed that they did. Their ‘Young People & Gambling 2018’ report, based on a survey of young’uns aged 11-16 “to explore gambling behaviour among young people in Great Britain”, did repeat the body’s stance that betting using in-game items (‘skin gambling’, the ever-disappointing name is) can be illegal gambling. However, the only mentions of loot boxes was in cautious questions around “gambling-style games”.

The report says that 31% of 2520 respondents “claim to have ever paid money or used in-game items to open loot boxes to get other in-game items”. It doesn’t make judgements or rulings on that, though.

The inclusion of loot boxes in a survey on gambling behaviour–a new addition this year–does indicate that the Gambling Commission are feeling around the issue, laying groundwork for potential future rulings or legislation, but they’re not there yet.

A number of media outlets and websites have extrapolated towards a conclusion that they’re calling it gambling or a gateway to gambling, but the Commission refute that.

“We’ve not in any way, in the survey, referred to it as exposure to gambling,” a Gambling Commission spokesperson told GamesIndustry.biz. “The reason we’ve asked that question is that it’s a very popular subject matter and we want to try and make sure that we have as much information and data around it as possible.”

Why am I going to bat for loot boxes? Because if something is to be done about the scuzzy and exploitative behaviour of some, the discourse should be clear on what experts and governments have actually said. Can’t win arguments without your facts straight. Well, you can, but you need to be very rich to force your wild-eyed will on others.

I was surprised to see that 3% of respondents said they had bet using in-game items. Skin gambling uses cosmetic items from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and other games as gambling chips, often to bet on the outcome of matches or enter into plain ol’ raffles.

It tends to be unsanctioned and forbidden by the operators of games–Valve have shut down many skin gambling sites, and their local gambling commission urged them to do more–and it does qualify as actual gambling, the commission say. They explained:

“Skins betting sites allow video gamers to wager cosmetic items rewarded in-game or purchased for real money on a digital marketplace, accessible from the UK for several years. The Gambling Commission takes the view that the ability to convert in-game items to cash, or to trade them (for other items of value) means they attain a real-world value and become articles of money or money#s worth. Where gambling facilities are offered to British consumers, including with the use of in-game items that can be converted into cash or traded (for items of value), a gambling licence is required. Tackling operators making gambling facilities available to children is one of the Gambling Commission’s priorities.”

Skin gambling meant something very different when I was 16.

If you’re curious, you can read the full report in this here PDF.

n.b. the report talks about “video games”, which means that it is two words BY LAW.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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