Category Archives: Studies/Research

Covid-19 Pandemic Expected to have Dangerously Impacted Super Bowl 54 Betting

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the significant amount of gambling on the Super Bowl each year, and the covid pandemic is expected to impact Super Bowl 54 the most yet. When Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, sports betting was legalized in more states than ever, and the unique situation of the pandemic saw an increase in sports betting in general.  So it might not be surprising to learn that even though ratings and viewership were down for this year’s Super Bowl, the amount of gambling was at an all time high.  NBC News reports:

Even as Super Bowl LV’s TV audience declined, the amount of money wagered on the game skyrocketed in some states — especially in New Jersey, where gamblers doubled their action, regulators said.

The lure of a game featuring Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, considered by many to be the greatest of all time, and his heir apparent, Chiefs signal caller Patrick Mahomes, drew many casual bettors, regulators said. “I believe people love great sports no matter of a pandemic,” said Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association. “This epic GOAT-baby GOAT matchup would have been hyped the same, either way,” referring to the acronym for “greatest of all time.”

Gamblers were able to make their first legal Super Bowl bets in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Tennessee and Virginia. Illinois books accepted a whopping $45.6 million in the state’s first Super Bowl wagers, the Gaming Board reported. Meanwhile, Colorado gamblers placed $31.2 million on Sunday’s game, according to the Department of Revenue.

Gambling of this magnitude is expected to prompt many gambling problems and will impact high-risk problem gamblers the most.  PBS Online explains:

Some 26 million people wagered almost $7 billion dollars on last year’s Super bowl, according to the American Gaming Association. That was a 15 percent increase from the previous year. This year’s figures are expected to go even higher. Zion Market Research predicts that sports betting will increase from $104 billion in 2018 to a whopping $155 million in 2024.

These kinds of escalating figures put high-risk problem gamblers in even greater peril, says Scott Anderson, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Problem Gambling Treatment Coordinator. He works with the Ohio’s “Before You Bet” Campaign to attempt to identify and help problem gamblers. And, sports gamblers have been identified as one of the largest groups of addicted and potentially addicted gamblers. According to Ohio for Responsible Gambling, 24.4 percent of the at risk/problem gamblers are sports bettors.

Yet, Anderson says, that gambling and gambling situations are difficult to avoid. It is all around us from mobile phone day trading to state supported lotteries. Although problem gambling can be devastating to an individual’s personal, financial and professional life, it can sometimes be difficult to detect in its early stages. If someone is concerned about their gambling or the gambling of a friend or loved one, Anderson suggests that the person visit BeforeYouBet.org

Many think gambling on the Super Bowl is harmless fun, and for some, who do it legally, it could be that simple. However, the consequences for others can be extreme. A Fox News affiliate has reported that Super Bowl night is not only the biggest night for gamblers, but it also sees the most suicides as well. For those that don’t suffer the ultimate fate, they can still lose enough to cause irreparable harm to their finances and family. Fox Now online explains:

“Super Bowl is probably one of the biggest gambling days of the year,” said Gambling Addiction Counselor, Jim Harrison [a gambling counselor in Milwaukee.] He says the wagers placed on the Super Bowl are often not taken as seriously and can be seen as harmless and fun. “In reality it is betting, it is gambling,” said Harrison. Those compulsive gamblers see it as a day to make up for other sports losses this season.

Harrison says it’s not harmless at all for those with an addiction — betting is done with bookies and online and it could bring losses. “If it causes family problems, certainly financial problems,” said Harrison. “I’ve had clients who have literally lost over $300,000 gambling,” said Harrison. The Super Bowl can bring losses to those betting on it all, and it can be tempting to those dealing with gambling addiction.

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New Study Shows Children Exhibit Gambling Addiction Behavior like Stealing from Parents to fund Gambling-esque Loot Box Addiction

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the multifaceted impact loot boxes have in the gambling space.  More and more governments and organizations are recognizing loot boxes as gambling and many links have been observed in studies that examine loot boxes’ impact on the children who are seemingly playing safe video games.  These boxes act like slot machines in that children have to pay to pull the lever, or open a box, chasing after in-game loot.  There seems to be no significant cognitive behavioral difference in the addition of slot machines and loot boxes and in many cases, especially where the gained items can be sold for value, they fit the definition of gambling.  As such, more studies are being conducted and the newest study has some sobering results.  An online source reports:

According to new research by the Gambling Health Alliance, some 15% of young gamers have taken money from their parents without permission to buy loot boxes. An estimated 11% of gamers have used their parents’ credit cards to finalize the transaction, the GHA has reported.

The organization cautions that video games come with pitfalls and in a way resonates with what Scottish MP Ronnie Cowan said earlier this month, urging parents to boycott buying video games that contain loot boxes lest they start showing symptoms of gambling addiction.

The 15% reported by the GHA means that almost one in six young gamers has stolen money from their parents. Worse still, one in ten children, or 9%, have borrowed money they couldn’t repay to buy loot boxes, the research said. Three families had to re-mortgage their homes to cover the purchase of loot boxes, the GHA revealed. Based on the research, one in four respondents or 22% spent over £100 on average during the regular playthrough.

The addiction that follows loot boxes is not substantively different from that of slot machines, so the cognitive mechanics that addict gamers are generally understood. However, researchers want to know what drives the initial desire for children playing these games to start paying for and opening these addictive loot boxes.  Such information can help parents determine which games are safe and which could lead to such devastating addictive behaviors.  The source continues: 

Youngsters also reported that loot boxes interfered with their gaming experience for several reasons outlined by respondents in the survey. Children cited the “pay to win” model which made competitive play impossible. Another reason children cited was the scarcity of valuable items which could be procured through loot boxes. According to the GHA, all of the above made loot boxes increasingly addictive.

GHA Chair Duncan Stephenson has commented on the addictive tendencies among young children, acknowledging that teenagers enjoyed video games and that was perfectly fine. However, Stephenson cautioned the general public about the effects loot boxes can have on young people’s mental and financial well-being.

“Aside from the financial cost our latest survey with gamers suggests that the fixation with loot boxes can lead to classic symptoms of addiction including mood swings, problems sleeping, and impacting on their social life.”-GHA Chair Duncan Stephenson

He cautioned parents to be careful about the risks that loot boxes entail, especially when considering purchases of games that contain loot boxes. Stephenson also noted that these game mechanics will sooner or later be classified as gambling and be removed from games played by individuals who are under 18 years of age. There have been multiple calls for the reclassification of loot boxes already.

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Loot Box Gambling in Video Games Front and Center of new UK Legislative Efforts

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to classify loot boxes as gambling.  Most recently, the Netherlands issues huge fines against video game publisher EA over this gambling type mechanic in their game Fifa and Spain has shifted focus to regulating these loot boxes as gambling to help protect the children who play these video games.  The UK has been examining the issue for a while, and a new effort being pushed by a local legislator is placing loot boxes front and center.  An online source reports:

Midlothian MP Owen Thompson called for the updating of gambling laws to include tougher action to prevent children and young people being encouraged into gambling-like behaviours while using video games. After the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister Nigel Huddleston outlined plans for a forthcoming gambling review, the Midlothian MP called for it to include measures to regulate the use of “loot boxes” in video games. Academic research has linked loot box spending to problem gambling in adolescents.

Mr Thompson called for an extension of the Gambling Act 2005 to include loot boxes and action to prevent video game companies from profiteering on the back of young people who develop gambling-like addictions.

Mr Thompson said: “It is well past time the UK’s gambling laws were made fit for the digital age. Of particular concern is the rise in gambling in children under 16. One important step would be to close the loopholes that allow gambling-like tools to be excessively used in children’s video games. “Parents don’t care about the legal definitions of gambling – they want to know their children are safe when playing popular video games and that means tighter regulations to protect from online harms.

When describing the nature of loot boxes, Mr. Thompson points out that academic research has explained the link to problem gambling and that these video game companies are operating in a legal loophole that needs to be addressed.  The online source continues:

“The presence of loot boxes can encourage young people who are enjoying a video game to spend money they can’t afford in order to keep going, and academic research shows this is linked to problem gambling. It is a very short step between that and addictions to other forms of gambling games like slot machines.

“This is a loophole in the law that needs to be closed down so that tougher regulatory measures can be taken. The Vice Chair of EA Games described loot boxes as ethical and fun, but as a gamer myself I find they can be a costly distraction at best, and capable of encouraging online harm at worst. I find it highly unethical to profit from excessive spend from teenagers on games of chance.

“We cannot wait for the industry to take tougher action – the UK Government needs to tighten the laws and ensure everything possible is done to ensure children and young people are protected when online.”

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Military Veterans Face Double the Risk of Problem Gambling over the Civilian Population

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the various efforts to deal with gambling issues in the military.  These issues don’t simply exist while active duty, but they can often be seen impacting those long after they separate.  As we focus on Veteran’s Day, it’s important to realize the range of issues they deal with extend beyond their civilian counterparts.  There are many factors to consider, and one online source helps break the gambling issues down:

The 11th month, November, on the 11^th   day is dedicated to commemorating the men and women who have served in the U.S. military. As a country, we strive to honor and protect these individuals after returning to civilian life. While there are many mental health and addiction resources available throughout the nation, one issue usually remains hidden — problem gambling.

It’s a problem any time gambling causes financial, vocational, mental or interpersonal problems in one’s life, and it’s an issue that affects roughly two million Americans. However, Veterans have elevated rates of problem gambling — at least twice the rate as the general adult population (Westermeyer et al., 2013). Additionally, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates that as many as 56,000 active duty members of the Armed Forces meet the criteria for gambling disorder.

Problem gambling is often viewed as inconsequential and limited to financial impacts among its victims. The sad reality, however, is that its impact is far reaching and can often times be deadly.  The source explains:

Compared to the national population, problem gambling may not seem like a priority. However, problem gambling can impact up to 55 percent of the population. It is estimated that each individual struggling with problem gambling can impact up to 10 additional people.

On top of that, problem gambling has the highest suicide rate among all addictions. “About 50 percent of those with disordered gambling have had suicidal thoughts. Over 17 percent of these individuals have attempted suicide,” (Moghaddam et al., 2015).

Problem gambling is also extremely underreported_ and low screening rates, especially in the military, remain a barrier. Some initial screening tools that are available include the “Lie Bet” and the “Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen.”  which provide basic questions on gambling habits.

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Netherlands Court Rules EA’s Loot Boxes are Illegal Gambling and Upheld Earlier Fine

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the newest form of gambling in video games known as loot boxes. This particular gambling-esque mechanic was first brought forth to mainstream media because of their prevalence in EA’s Star Wars licensed BattleFront II game.  Since then, regulators all over the world have urged for studies or moved to advance legislation that regulates or bans loot boxes.  So perhaps it’s fitting that the publisher EA is again at the forefront of the battle over loot boxes in the Netherlands.  This time they have been accused of allowing illegal gambling in their world popular soccer game Fifa.  The court ruled that their loot boxes are illegal and ordered them to pay a fine. An online gaming source explains:

A Netherlands District Court this week ruled against Electronic Arts in a case over FIFA loot boxes, allowing the Netherlands Gambling Authority (Kansspelautoriteit, or Ksa) to proceed in fining the publisher €10 million for violating the country’s Betting and Gaming Act.

“The Ksa believes it is crucial to shield vulnerable groups, such as minors, from exposure to gambling,” the regulator explained. “For that reason, the Ksa supports a strict separation between gaming and gambling. Gamers are often young and therefore particularly susceptible to developing an addiction. As such, gambling elements have no place in games.”

According to the judgment, EA argued that FIFA loot boxes would not count as gambling under the Betting and Gaming Act because FIFA Ultimate Team packs (loot boxes) don’t offer items of value because they cannot be directly converted into money, that FIFA is inherently a game of skill rather than chance, and that there is no scientific evidence linking the opening of Ultimate Team packs to gambling addiction.

The court was unswayed by those arguments, noting that there are ways for people to profit from Ultimate Team cards that can be valued at nearly €2,000, and that people can ignore the proper FIFA gameplay and “play” the Ultimate Team packs as their own sort of game.

As for the lack of scientific proof, the judges ruled it not necessary that every new game of chance be proven to cause problems, because the Betting and Gaming Act is based on the assumption that games of chance carry with them a risk of gambling addiction. They also pointed to an increasing body of scientific research and experts warning about loot boxes, as well as reports made to the Ksa by individuals who had been affected by them.

Naturally, EA is expected to appeal the decision.  They asked the court to not disclose the amount of the fine, but the court’s response was “that the public interest in announcing the fines and warning the public about unlawful commercial practices outweighed EA’s interest in preserving its reputation.”

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Cell Phone Data seemingly indicates travel to Las Vegas for Gambling might be a major contributor for continued Covid- 19 Spread

Casino Watch Focus has reported on all the various impacts coronavirus has had on gambling this year.  The country has gone through one lock down and many areas regressed back after initial attempts to reopen.  Las Vegas has gone through its own reopening experience and not without controversy.  Recently, the city was seen as providing regulations that set the maximum occupancy of churches at only 50 total people, while allowing companies like casinos to set their  occupancy to be set at a whopping 50%.  Beyond the calls and concerns for double standards, many wondered how the draw of this much gambling capacity would impact those coming to the area and then traveling back home, potentially with Covid-19 in tow to spread back home.  New Cellphone data was examined and concludes there is a potentially huge impact to prolonging the pandemic.  The Reno Gazette Journal reports:

An analysis of smartphone data during four days, a Friday to Monday in mid-July, revealed how most of the U.S. is connected to Las Vegas – a likely hot spot of COVID-19 spread.

During that time frame, about 26,000 devices were identified on The Strip, according to data mined by the companies X-Mode and Tectonix. Some of those smartphones then traveled to every state on the mainland except Maine.

The cellphone analysis highlights a reason the virus keeps spreading and shows how travel to Las Vegas could be fueling the pandemic, according to health officials.

“In this rush to reopen and reposition the economic activities, all we’ve been doing is spreading and amplifying the reach of this disease,” said Oscar Alleyne, an epidemiologist and chief program officer with the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Six public health experts told ProPublica that casinos are a high-risk environment for COVID-19 – “a feeding ground for COVID-19. “There is a serious opportunity for spreading the virus, especially for people who are mildly sick or don’t know they’re sick,” said Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “We’ve seen big outbreaks kicked off by these types of situations.”

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Timely US based Class Action Lawsuit Claims EA Loot Boxes are Gambling as Study examines the link between Loot Boxes, Accessibility, and Problem Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on loot boxes in video games and how more and more jurisdictions are treating them like gambling and regulating them accordingly.  Most recently, a California law was used to push lawsuits against Apple and Google for loot boxes allowed through games in their app stores.  Now, EA, the publisher best known for kicking off the media and social campaigns that outlined and revealed loot boxes and gambling to the world through its Star Wars game Battlefront II, is facing a $5 million class action lawsuit.  Specifically, the class action is citing one of EA’s most profitable games, Fifa Ultimate Team.  An online source explains:

Video Games Chronicle reports Kevin Ramirez filed the class action lawsuit with the Northern District of California on the behalf of 100 other plaintiffs. In the suit, they allege EA “relies on creating addictive behaviors in consumers to generate huge revenues.” They specifically call out EA’s Ultimate Team Packs, which allow gamers to assemble their favorite teams for online play, saying they “are predatory and designed to entice gamers to gamble.” They go on to add:

“EA’s Ultimate Team Packs are Loot Boxes. Buying the Packs are nothing more than a gambling bet. Purchased using real money, the Ultimate Team Packs are simply wagers on completely randomized chances within the game to win valuable professional players and other items for the EA gamer’s virtual sports team.”

They will have to prove that loot boxes rise to the level of California’s definition of gambling. That definition defines a gambling  device as “a machine, aperture, or device; something of value is given to play; and the player may receive something of value by element of chance.” The lawsuit goes on to say:

“None of these elements can be in dispute. A gamer uses his console, computer, smartphone or tablet with the EA sports franchise game on it (#1); the gamer pays real-world currency for the opportunity to open an Ultimate Team Pack (#2); and the Ultimate Team Pack is a randomized chance to win something valuable in-game.”

The timing of this particular class action lawsuit is of particular note given a recent study that examined the relationship between loot box purchases and gambling problems.  The study draws a parallel between gambling problems and access to loot boxes.  The study doesn’t claim that loot boxes will lead to problem gambling, but that those who suffer from problem gambling issues will engage in loot boxes.  Given how widely accessible they are to gamers, this makes the responsibility to regulate them appropriately even more clear.  An online source explains:

A new study from CQUniversity Australia has found that gamers who purchase loot boxes are more likely to have gambling problems… The study looked at 2,000 gamers between the ages of 12 and 24, and over 93% had played a video game that contained loot boxes in the past year. The majority of respondents agreed that loot boxes have some sort of addictive quality, and one third said they regularly purchased them. In fact, adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 spent a median of $50 on loot boxes. Parents are often unsure as to what loot boxes even are and, because of this, the study calls for increased monitoring and enhanced public awareness campaigns by the gaming industry.

Worse yet, researchers Dr. Alex Russell and Professor Matthew Rockloff found that 62% of the best-selling games now include loot boxes — including /Angry Birds/ and /Counter-Strike/. They point out that many of the most valuable rewards are often resold online for real cash, further blurring the line between loot boxes and gambling.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Florida Gambling Hotline Reveals Crisis Experienced by those During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing complexities of Covid-19’s impact to the gambling industry.  Beyond the obvious loss of revenue revenue and shut downs, coronavirus’ impact reaches problem gamblers as well. The current climate has created a perfect storm of issues that can drive people to gamble and with the accessibility of online gambling to many, the threat of devastation is very real.  A Florida gambling hotline is helping to make the general public aware of such issues.  An online source explains:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape life as we had once known it, closures of traditional brick-and-mortar gambling facilities coupled with social distancing restrictions and requirements have resulted in dramatic shifts in gambling behaviors along with serious negative consequences as reported by contacts to Florida’s 888-ADMIT-IT Problem Gambling HelpLine in March and April.

According to Jennifer Kruse, Executive Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), “Of particular concern with recent COVID-19 closures and quarantines, is the associated increase inproblem-gambling-related risk factors that occur as a result, such as loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression, and increased use or abuse of substances. The severity of problems reported by individuals contacting the FCCG’s 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine in March and April illustrate the increased occurrence of these associated risk factors and resulting, exacerbated problem-gambling-related impacts experienced during this time.”

During the pandemic, the economic consequences have hit the country hard, and as result of the government mandated business closures, economic stimulus checks have been sent out to help keep people on their feet.  This situation can be viewed as a windfall of money to some, which has prompted calls for gambling to be shut down during this time.  Many will view the stimulus check as a way to gamble and increase their financial situation.  This big win mentality can trigger many stressors that exacerbate the problems leading to troubling and fatal consequences .  The source continues:

Receiving a stimulus check may also be viewed as an unexpected “big win” for at-risk and problem or recovering gamblers. Money lost gambling can lead to financial difficulties, which can trigger associated stressors that interfere with relationships, mental, and even physical health. These experiences can leave problem gamblers and their loved ones feeling discouraged and hopeless about the future.

“When a problem gambler feels they have lost everything and sees no possibility to gain or recover, suicidal ideation and/or attempts are very real possibilities. This is unfortunately what we have seen with contacts to the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine in April, with more than one in five (21%), revealing current or recent suicidal feelings or thoughts due to their gambling problem,” explained Kruse. 

“The share of callers referred to Crisis Lines in April (23%), also rose significantly by more than double, with increased levels of hopelessness and desperation reported, due to gambling-related financial and mental health repercussions brought about by the COVID-19 crisis,” Kruse noted, as cause for additional concern.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated pockets of impact, but rather spread all over the state.  Access to online gambling and the lottery means that closed brick and mortar casinos don’t shield those around the state from gambling’s destructive impact.  Help is available and should be sought out.  The source concludes:

The data reported during the month of April by 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine contacts, reveals that help seekers this month were from areas all over the state and were primarily from those engaged in the forms of gambling activities still available during quarantine and social distancing restrictions, Online Gambling and the Lottery. This illustrates the effects that gambling addiction can have on any community in the state, and further highlights that those associated impacts will correlate with what gambling options are accessible or available in a particular area.

At a time of uncertainty while the whole world anxiously awaits the return to “normal life,” whatever that may be, reassurance for anyone negatively impacted by a gambling problem that resources are available and accessible through Florida’s 888-ADMIT-IT Problem Gambling HelpLine has never been more important. “Gambling addiction is treatable, and population-specific programs and services for gamblers and their loved ones are accessible any time of the day or night, any day of the year.

The FCCG’s 24-hour confidential and multilingual HelpLine may be reached by calling 888-ADMIT-IT (888-236-4848), texting (321) 978-0555, emailing fccg@gamblinghelp.org, initiating a live chat at gamblinghelp.org, or by reaching out to us on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter,” concluded Kruse.

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States Urged to Temporarily Shut down Lottery Gambling as Coronavirus Economic Stimulus Checks are Sent Out

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the various impacts Covid-19 is having on the gambling industry. All across the country, casinos are being closed, alongside other businesses, as stay at home orders are in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.  Obviously this has lead to a sharp downturn in the economy and the government has responded with economic stimulus checks.  One group is wisely suggesting to state legislators to temporarily suspend their lotteries to help ensure that money can be spent on essentials, and not sent back to the government through state funded gambling.  An online source reports:

Stop Predatory Gambling, which has been a familiar face at online gambling hearings on Capitol Hill over the years, on Monday sent a letter to governors of states with lotteries. SPG National Director Les Bernal said in his letter that federal relief money sent to families could be used to “subsidize state lotteries.”

Bernal called for lotteries to temporarily shut down by arguing, in part, that people shouldn’t be able to spend their stimulus checks on that form of state-sanctioned gambling. Casinos across the country have closed, sports betting has come to a near standstill, and only four states have some form of legal online casino gaming. That has left the lottery as the only widespread form of gambling still active.

“We are writing to call on you to immediately shut down the marketing and selling of all state lottery gambling games until the financial turmoil caused by the coronavirus has passed,” Bernal said.

Such advocacy is solidly grounded as those with the least economic ability tend to be the ones to spend the most on the lottery.  Les Bernal addresses these issues in a press release that accompanied the letter:

As part of its letter to state officials, Stop Predatory Gambling included its 2020 Briefing on State Lotteries also issued on Monday. The report spotlighted lotteries as one of the root causes why more than 60% of Americans had less than $1000 in savings before the coronavirus pandemic occurred.

The report found “state governments have turned a nation of small earners, who could be small savers, into a nation of habitual gamblers on course to lose more than $1 trillion of wealth to government-sanctioned gambling over the next eight years. At least half of this wealth – $500 billion – will be lost to state lotteries.”

Bernal hopes the lottery shutdown and the new report will bring sorely-needed attention to “America’s most-neglected problem today.”

“Building assets and the accumulating and investing of savings, are the keys to financial peace,” Bernal said.   “A home, a college fund, retirement accounts, a stock portfolio—these assets are the hallmarks of middle and upper class America, and they are all the result of savings. Creating wealth by the accumulation and investment of savings is the direct opposite of what state lotteries represent and encourage.”

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Researchers Want Lawmakers to Treat Loot Boxes as Gambling and Regulate them as Such

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issues with gambling-esque look boxes in video games. This mechanic is essentially a slot machine and encourages children to poor more and more money into the game as they chase the warranted prize from a mystery box. This troubling gambling type mechanic has drawn the ire of legislators and regulatory bodies from around the world. Most recently,  the UK started examining loot boxes and micro transactions and had choice words and spirited exchanges with EA, one of the most aggressive loot box pushing publishers and one of the faces of this controversy. These loot boxes really took hold when EA pushed the mechanic in the Disney owned Star Wars franchise video game they licensed known as Battlefield 2 prompting some to call the Star Wars game nothing more than a themed online casino that preys on children.

Since that time, academics and researchers have been examining the links in problem gambling and loot boxes and have broken down how psychologically manipulative these systems are, even when they fall short of some jurisdictions technical definition of gambling. Most recently, researches discussed how this can be a life of death situation among problem gamblers. Now, a formal recommendation is being made that loot boxes be treated as gambling and regulated as such. The Guardian explains:

Video game loot boxes should be regulated as gambling and children barred from purchasing them, a House of Commons committee has advised. The recommendation comes as part of the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee’s report on immersive and addictive technologies, published on Thursday after months of parliamentary hearings with technology and gaming companies.

While loot boxes involve an element of chance because players do not know what they will get, they are not covered by existing gambling legislation because the items “won” are not considered to have monetary value. But the report heard evidence that loot box winnings can be exchanged for money and that their use by game developers was likely to “facilitate profiting from problem gamblers”.

Researches point to extremely high cost to children that gaming companies are inflicting when they exploit children in this manner. Those cost are financial and otherwise and should prompt legislators to regulate them and ban children from being able to make such gambling type purchase. The Guardian continues:  


Damian Collins, the chair of the committee, said: “Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.”

A survey by the Gambling Commission in 2018 found that 31% of children aged 11-16 had paid for loot boxes, while one gamer told MPs that he was spending up to £1,000 a year on the football game Fifa hoping to win better players for his team.

The report cited evidence from cognitive psychologists that such in-game features are “designed to exploit potent psychological mechanisms associated with […] gambling-like behaviours”.

The committee also argued that online games should be legally covered by the same enforceable age restrictions as physical sales, closing a loophole that publishers argued freed them of responsibility.

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EA Tries to label Gambling-esques Loot Boxes as ‘Surprise Mechanics’ During UK Parliamentary Investigation

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing studies and investigations into the latest predatory gaming mechanics known as loot boxes. These are digital boxes that can be purchase with real money in video games and they contain random loot that can be used in game. In some cases these are vary rare items that have value in game. Most of the time, however, they are essentially useless items and kids or other gamers are encouraged to buy another box to get the good prize. It’s effectively a slot machine, along with all the psychological bells and whistles designed to get the player to keep paying to open more boxes.

In some cases, these items have enough value that they can be cashed out or soldmaking them exactly like a slot machine. As a result, they have been investigated and studied vigorously over the past year or so and even when some conclude they aren’t outright gambling, almost all conclude they are predatory, addictive, aimed at exploiting children and some have concluded that they lead to problem gambling & gambling addiction.  

Most recently, the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture, Media, and Sports Committee conducted an investigation and they heavily questioned EA, the company most famously known for its loot box controversies involving key games like Star Wars Battlefield II and FIFA. During the testimony, they attempted to rebrand loot boxes and tried to compare this highly sophisticated and psychologically trapping mechanic to surprise toys, like Kinder Eggs, that you can buy in the store. Screen Rate explains:

Kerry Hopkins, EA’s VP of legal and government affairs, went on record during an oral evidence session with the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture, Media, and Sport Committee as saying that the company doesn’t view its microtransactions as loot boxes, but rather as “surprise mechanics.”

It’s a frankly shocking and blatant disregard of much of the research that has gone into the problem of loot boxes, with Hopkins also likening EA’s loot boxes to “Kinder Eggs, or Hatchimals.” The difference? The latter two haven’t been correlated with gambling addiction in research studies, whereas loot boxes have, even if many more studies need to be done to conclusively link the two. EA’s attempted rebranding of loot boxes in the face of anti-loot box stances in the Netherlands, Belgium, and now in the United States is a clear appeal to keep the practice in place in the face of growing hostility.

With EA, it can be hard to separate the fact from fiction, but in this instance, it’s not difficult at all: loot boxes are loot boxes, not “surprise mechanics.” That the publisher is even attempting to assert they’re anything but what they are is an insult to consumer intelligence everywhere, and shows a blatant disregard for ethical concerns, instead prioritizing money.

This level of false equivocation is beyond concerning. EA pushed back against the Belgian Gaming Commission when it concluded their FIFA loot box cards clearly constituted unregulated gambling. Ultimately, they did remove them from the game in that specific country, but they really don’t see a difference in their gambling mechanic and Hatchimals. Video Game YouTuber YongYea, in a rather spirited, yet extraordinarily well reasoned video, properly outlines why this a dangerous false equivocation:

The only similarity between loot boxes and Kinder Eggs is that both involve opening some kind of container to reveal a random reward. But video game loot boxes go layers deeper than that. First of all, unlike Kinder Eggs, video games usually charge an entry fee, normally $60 for the standard edition. With Kinder Eggs there is no entry fee. You buy one or a couple, you get whatever toy inside and that’s that.

Most of the rewards you get out of loot boxes will be completely useless, with a small chance of getting something truly coveted, and that is by design. [B]ecause loot boxes are digital in nature, its parameters can be controlled and adjusted to the developer’s and publisher’s whim at their convenience. We often see games that tweak the odds post-launch, that introduce new roadblocks, add new coveted items that are easier to get or new modes that are easier to overcome by paying, rather than playing.

Then there is also the fact that with Kinder Eggs, opening a container for the little toy inside [is] pretty much the whole game. There’s not much else to it than that. The entire purpose of Kinder Eggs is to get that toy and maybe collect them. In-game loot boxes, on the other hand, act as this sub system that holds a lot of influence over the game itself. Loot boxes often tend to be implemented in such a way that you pretty much have to buy them in order to access the best possible experience for the game you purchased or downloaded. They essentially act as slot machine tollbooths for the product you already bought. Games will often implement intentional issues and roadblocks so that you will have to pay to mitigate them through the purchase of these randomized rewards.

I should also point out that when you open a Kinder Egg, there are no flashy animations or sound effects that are strictly designed to release these chemicals in your brain that give you that addictive sense of anticipation. With loot boxes, on the other hand, every time you open one you’re presented with this spectacle that is not too dissimilar to what you’ll find in casinos, slot machines specifically. That’s because slot machines and loot boxes are designed with the same purpose in mind, to keep those who are psychologically susceptible to gambling addiction and addictive tendencies coming back so they can be milked dry. This is regardless of their mental or financial health. That’s not a priority for these casinos and companies like EA.

Casinos at least have some kind of system where they keep kids away and what have you. The gaming industry, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to [care] about kids whose minds are still developing, who are more susceptible to addiction than adults are. The gaming industry certainly doesn’t care about susceptible adults or implementing monetization schemes responsibly.

The gaming industry cannot even uphold something as simple as an age restriction. As per the ESRB, on their website you can see that any game with real-life gambling must be considered an adult’s only game. Of course, this classification will prevent that game from being sold on most major platforms. But because loot boxes make them so much money, they’re trying to pretend like loot boxes aren’t gambling. That’s how they get around this and now companies like EA are going as far claiming loot boxes aren’t even loot boxes, but rather surprise mechanics. No EA, Kinder Eggs and loot boxes don’t come anywhere close to being the same thing. That’s like saying getting shot with a BB gun is pretty much the same as getting shot with sniper riffle because both involve pulling a trigger that ejects a projectile. This is false equivocation at its finest and this is a classic move from EA and other major publishers.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

 


New Studies Point to Connection between Loot Box Spending and Problem Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the newest gambling mechanic that has taken over video games aimed at children. Loot Boxes are a gambling reward system where the player pays to acquire mystery boxes that when opened provide random in-game items. These items can be simply cosmetic items like a new outfit for a character like Luke Skywalker to wear in Battle Front II, the Star Wars Game based on the Disney property that EA game developed that brought this issue to the forefront, to actually in game weapons that make you more powerful and thus able to win more. Many have called this mechanic out as simple gambling directed and children and the amount of money people spend on loot boxes chasing a certain item is staggering. Many world leaders and government agencies have either banned their use or have called for studies to enact legislation to properly regulate them. Now two large studies have come forward that provides proof that this mechanic plays on the same psychological principles that turn people into problem gamblers as well. An online source reports: 

Many popular games allow people to pay a small fee to obtain a “loot box” containing random selections of virtual in-game items. New research has found that there is a significant relationship between problematic gambling behaviors and spending money on loot boxes.

The findings, which appear in the journal PLOS One, indicate that people who spend more money on loot boxes are also more likely to be unable to keep their gambling habits in check.

“Loot boxes are extremely widespread. A recent analysis we did showed that they may feature in as many as 63% of mobile games. They’re extremely profitable, too: They’re estimated to have perhaps generated as much as $30 billion in revenue in 2018,” said study author David Zendle of York St. John University.

The societal impact of such finding is troubling to say the least. Various game publishers have made some changes to their loot box systems so that you can’t “cash out” or sell your items for real money, thus avoiding the technical definition of gambling in some jurisdictions. Still, others see the entire mechanic as so psychologically manipulative, that regulation is absolutely necessary, especially when so many games are geared towards children. The article goes on to outline the impact:

The participants all reported regularly playing at least of one of ten popular games that feature loot boxes: Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: GO, FIFA 18, Rocket League, DOTA 2, Team Fortress 2, and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.

“There is a link between loot box spending and problem gambling. However, we’re not sure if this means that loot boxes literally cause problem gambling, or if it means that people who are already problem gamblers spend significantly more money on loot boxes. In either case, though, it doesn’t look socially beneficial.”

Some researchers have compared loot boxes to a predatory form of psychological ‘entrapment’ where players spend an escalating amount of money because they believe they have invested too much to quit. But longitudinal research is needed to determine whether loot boxes are directly related to the development of gambling problems.

“Researchers have suggested that loot boxes might create a gateway to problem gambling. We still don’t know if this is true,” Zendle remarked. The study, “Loot boxes are again linked to problem gambling: Results of a replication study,
was authored by David Zendle and Paul Cairns. 

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FTC and Others Investigating the Dangers of Loot Boxes in Video Games and their Gambling Impact

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing happenings of loot boxes, a video game mechanic that most view as a form of gambling that prays on children. Various local and international agencies have taken the threat seriously and have started seriously looking into the dangers of loot boxes and their link to gambling. Most recently, 16 countries signed an agreement to study loot boxes as more and more evidence draws links between loot boxes and problem gambling. As an online source reports, the FTC is joining in those that have expressed serious concern with their own investigations:

Federal Trade Commission chairman Joe Simons announced Tuesday that the agency would be investigating the use of micro-transactions, commonly referred to as loot boxes, in video games. According to NBC, there has been growing concern around the use of these loot boxes, which some view as a form of gambling designed to be addictive that is marketed to children.

Earlier this year, Senator Maggie Hassan of New Jersey sent a letter to the Entertainment and Software Ratings Board (ESRB) president to request that she re-evaluate how the board rates games with loot boxes, according to the popular gaming news platform Polygon.

“The prevalence of in-game micro-transactions, often referred to as ‘loot boxes,’ raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance,” Hassan wrote in her letter.

Researchers looking into the issue have found signs of addictive behavior and problem gambling among gamers who spend money on loot boxes. One study published in the /Public Library of Science/ which surveyed 7,000 gamers found that “the gambling-like features of loot boxes are specifically responsible for the observed relationship between problem gambling and spending on loot boxes.” They therefore concluded that “there may be good reason to regulate loot boxes in games.”

Across the pond, similar investigations are happening in the UK as the criticisms of look boxes grow, particularly as some of the most popular video games in the industry are adopting these predatory gaming mechanics. The Guardian reports: 

A House of Commons committee has announced plans to investigate the growth of “immersive and addictive technologies”, to advise the government on how to create policy and regulation that can protect the public from the negative effects of digitisation and “gamification”.

It follows a growing campaign against deliberately addictive mechanics in technology and video games, particularly the crossover with gambling represented by “loot boxes” – randomised rewards sold in games for real money.

The links between gaming and gambling is one of the key points to be investigated by the committee, which will ask: “What are the effects of in-game spending, especially on children, and does it need stronger monitoring or regulation?”

Games such as Fifa, Overwatch and Call of Duty have been criticised for the practice, which has led to reports of primary school-age children spending almost £500 on Fifa players and getting into the habit of spending £15 a week on pseudo-gambling. 

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UPDATE: 16 Countries Sign Agreement to Fight Loot Box Gambling in Video Games as New Study Draws Link Between Loot Boxes & Problem Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on the ongoing fight to regulate the addictive and gambling-esque gameplay mechanic known as loot boxes. Video games offer boxes that can be purchased for real money and they randomly provide in-game items. These items often have real world value and have certainly been sold as such. Clear links between this and slot machine gambling have been drawn and many are realizing what’s at steak. The issue became a main-stream topic when the Disney’s popular Start Wars franchise was licensed and used by video game publisher EA to make Battlefront II. The loot boxes were a critical component to advancing in the game and it was practically essential from children playing the game to buy these loot boxes to get equipment to be able to compete in the game. The situation was so bad one legislator called the game and Star Wars Themed online casino. After several individual dealings with loot box regulation, including the first actual ban, we now see the first coalition attempting to regulate this new form of gambling to children. Variety explains: 

Fifteen gambling regulators from Europe, as well as Washington State Gambling Commission, signed an agreement to work together to address the “risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling,” according to Gambling Commission It also plans to tackle third-party websites that offer players the chance to gamble or sell in-game items.

Certain countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands, have already taken measures including officially declaring loot boxes as gambling. Those countries even had players unable to open loot boxes in “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” (CS:GO) due to some players selling rare skins and other in-game items on third-party websites, sometimes for large sums of actual money.

Another measure was taken by popular games selling platform Steam, as Valve removed the ability to trade items in “CS:GO” and “Dota 2” on its platform to comply with gambling regulations in June. However, this will mark the first international combined effort against the concerns of gaming and gambling— which could mean a more intense effort than what individual states have taken.

Neil McArthur, chief executive and signatory of the UK’s Gambling Commission explained the intent behind the effort. “We have joined forces to call on video games companies to address the clear public concern around the risks gambling and some video games can pose to children,” McArthur said. “We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected.” McArthur further noted that children could be “gambling with money intended for computer game products” using sites that allow users to bet real currency on in-game items. “We want parents to be aware of the risks and to talk to their children about how to stay safe online,” McArthur said.

Such efforts are even more critically important as more and more research is revealing the true cost and risk to our children. It was already reported that the loot box industry is expected to reach $50 billion dollars, but new research is demonstrating exactly what kind of negative effects that can have on children, and given the psychological similarities between gambling and these gaming mechanics, its no surprise the finding point towards a gateway to problem gambling. An online gaming publication reports:

An Australian committee has released the findings of an investigation on loot boxes in video games started earlier this year, reporting that loot boxes and problem gambling are linked and that the monetization practice comes with “a serious risk […] to cause gambling-related harm.”

The debate about loot boxes and their connection to gambling has been raging for quite some time at this point, but the Australian government’s investigation and findings back a growing number of lawmaking bodies and regulatory committees working to impose or encourage regulation of the practice.

In the case of this investigation, and according to information on the study shared by Lexology, researchers looked at a sample size of roughly 7,500 individuals and found “important links between loot box spending and problem gambling.”

The report notes that players with severe gambling problems were more likely to spend large sums on loot boxes in video games, and that its findings suggest that loot boxes can act as a gateway to problem gambling and that the monetization practice itself gives game companies “an unregulated way of exploiting gambling disorders amongst their customers.”

“These results support the position of academics who claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling,” reads a statement shared along with the findings, shortly after calling back to an earlier quote from the ESRB that likened loot boxes to baseball cards. “Spending large amounts of money on loot boxes was associated with problematic levels of spending on other forms of gambling. This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling. It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.” 

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UPDATE: Washington State joins Hawaii in pushing investigation and legislation around gambling-esque loot boxes in video games.

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing revelation that video game publishers are pushing what many have called predatory gambling mechanics into recent video games. These loot boxes that are purchased by a gamer dispense in-game items by chance. The players don’t know what items they are actually purchasing and thus they chase after the change of getting the good loot much like a gambler chases after the right combination in a slot machine. What’s worse, publisher EA used these gambling boxes as the primary way to advance through their latest Star Wars video game, Battlefront 2. Naturally, this not only caught the eye of the media, but Disney themselves had to step in. Then governmental agencies started investigating and expressing concern for such psychologically manipulative mechanisms in video games that are available to children. Chris Lee, a Hawaiian legislature pulled no punches when he categorized the game and loot boxes as simply an Star Wars themed online casino aimed at taking kids money. Apple called for companies to disclose the odds of obtaining various loot in any games sold in there app store, but the industry as a whole decided not to regulate loot boxes through the ESRB system. Given the lack of sell governance, yet another state has pushed forward to investigate the issue. The Rolling Stone reports:

As the debate surrounding loot boxes and microtransactions as a form of gambling targeted at children continues, a new bill proposed in Washington is looking to force the game industry to regulate these mechanics, The News Tribune reports.

Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker introduced a bill this month asking state officials, as well as game developers, to determine once and for all if loot boxes and similar mechanics are specifically designed to prey on children.

“What the bill says is, ‘Industry, state: sit down to figure out the best way to regulate this,’” Ranker told the outlet. “It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something.”

Despite the controversies, the game industry seems to be fully-committed to loot boxes and microtransactions. In a recent industry survey, the Game Developer’s Conference found one in 10 developers plan to implement the mechanics in their next game.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION