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NHS Chief Says Loot Boxes Are “Setting Kids Up For Addiction” To Gambling

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The British National Health Service (NHS) has confirmed the opening of a new treatment centre dedicated to treating addiction to video games.

In a strongly-worded statement, NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch called for a crackdown on gambling addiction risks – and that would involve video game companies banning loot boxes from games children play.

“Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.

Young people’s health is at stake, and although the NHS is stepping up with these new, innovative services available to families through our Long Term Plan, we cannot do this alone, so other parts of society must do what they can to limit risks and safeguard children’s wellbeing.”

NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch

The NHS confirmed the opening of a new treatment centre in response to growing concerns about addiction to gaming. This sits alongside up to 14 new NHS gambling clinics nationwide designed to address significant mental ill health linked to addiction.

The NHS said the Gambling Commission does not regulate loot boxes “due to a loophole” meaning it is not classed as gambling, referencing the inability to “cash out” items.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, echoed Murdoch’s statement, saying:

“The rise of gambling by stealth in video games is a threat to the health and wellbeing of young people, and we commend the NHS for coming out with this bold call.

“There is no doubt that loot boxes must be regarded as a form of gambling – and indeed our research showed that three in five young people regard them as such. And yet, the world of online gaming remains an unregulated, fast-evolving and opaque market with little to no safeguards for children.

“The Government must now make good on its manifesto commitment, and move without delay to revamp the outdated 2005 Gambling Act, so that it reflects the challenges of the modern day and protects our young people.”

Responding to today’s statement from the NHS, a spokesperson from the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment said:

“The games industry takes its responsibility to players very seriously and acknowledges that some people are concerned.

“That is why on the 10th January we launched our Get Smart About PLAY campaign, which is designed to help parents and carers manage play online and in the home.

“It shows that it is already possible to manage, limit or turn off spend in games with the help of family controls, providing practical guidance on how to do so at www.askaboutgames.com.

“The games industry has already committed to measures to inform players about purchasing choices, including in regards to loot boxes.

“New platform policies will require optional paid loot boxes in games to disclose information on the relative rarity or probability of obtaining randomised virtual items by the end of 2020, with many companies doing this voluntarily already.

“The government has committed to conducting a review of the Gambling Act, which loot boxes will form a part of. We look forward to working constructively with them on it.”

However, these are small steps in the right direction from an industry that so far seems unwilling to risk reduced revenue even at the benefit of the health of its customers.

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