Parent Zone, an advice service for parents and schools, is demanding immediate action from those involved to stop the connection between the gambling sites and the use of skins as digital currency.

Parent Zone’s head of content, Giles Milton, said that its investigation revealed that gaming firms were not taking the action necessary to stop it. Milton said, “It is gambling and children should not be gambling online. Parents need to understand what their children are doing with their money.”

At present, the 6 billion skins that are in circulation are said to be worth an estimated £10 billion. Loot boxes or booster packs, which can be earned through gameplay or bought for real money through video games, are a part of the problem.

Loot boxes are a controversial topic around the world at the moment. Individual countries have classified loot boxes in video games as gambling or not. Holland and Belgium each consider loot boxes to be gambling, while France and New Zealand do not. The UK and US are still deciding the matter.

UK Gambling Commission Studies Underage Gambling

The UK Gambling Commission is investigating whether video games lure British teenagers into the gambling culture. Gambling through video games has been a controversial topic discussed throughout the world, with several different issues appearing in just the last 2 to 3 years.

According to a 2016 study by the UK Gambling Commission, more than 400,000 British teenagers were lured into under-aged casino-style gambling through their video gaming. Children ranging in ages from 13 to 18 gambled winnings they have received from their video gaming on websites. Such websites allowed them to bet their winnings for cash on games, such as roulette wheel spins or other gambling-style games of chance.

Even in a country like the United Kingdom that has permissive online gambling rules, it is illegal for an operator to allow anyone under 18 years of age to gamble. The UK Gambling Commission now wants to study whether sites market of to children under 18 who are playing video games.

Parent Zone Calls for Punishment

Parent Zone says the UK Gambling Commission must punish gaming sites which encourage underage gambling. According to a poll done by Parent Zone, 10% of 13-18 year-olds admitted they have at some point gambled on unregulated casinos, esports betting, or mystery box games. That percentage is the equivalent of nearly 450,000 teenagers.

The poll revealed that 27% had heard of skins-gambling before, while 29% had said the issue was a “very big” or “fairly big” problem for children under 18. According to Parent Zone, 46% said — despite age-verification procedures in place on gaming and gambling sites — that underage gamers were able to freely and easily access 18-plus sites.

One teenager mentioned to Parent Zone that they had collected £2,000 worth of skins before ultimately losing it all on a gambling site. Such a trend seems to be a recurring pattern among younger teens.

UK Teenagers’ Gambling Stories

One 14-year-old told Parent Zone of his 15 year-old friend who collected £1,000 worth of skins, before he put it all into skins gambling. The teen said, “He lost [money twice] and wanted to get his £10 back. He ended up winning £750, but he’s really addicted to it.”

A 13-year-old boy told Parent Zone, “You can lose loads of money on [the gambling websites]. It’s basically just gambling, they just cover it up…cos (sic) you use the skins instead of currency.”

One boy even mentioned that his parents were somewhat aware of his spending, but did not inquire what he was spending it on. The 13-year-old said: “I’ve got my own bank account so whatever money is in there [my parents] don’t really ask — I just spend it. There’s loads of £2/£3 micro-transactions that I do all the time…They know that I’m spending it, just they don’t know what on.”

What Is the Root of The Problem?

Skins allow you to modify the appearance of in-game objects like guns and characters. These can either be purchased with real money or earned on Steam. Steam is a gaming platform used through the world that allows users to trade them between each other for a dollar or sterling value. They can then be used towards buying more skins or other games.

The balance from these trades cannot be withdrawn. However, unaffiliated websites, often falsely branded with Steam’s logo, will let users wager their compiled skins on virtual casino games or professional video game matches. These teens, after making it through the sites lax age-checks can then cash out the proceeds.

Parent Zone’s Milton said: “Steam has an ‘anything goes’ policy. It allows sites to connect code so that skins can be transferred out. Steam says it’s the third party’s fault and has issued cease and desist orders, but it is not doing enough.”

Juniper Market Analysts

Lauren Foye from Juniper Market Analysts, said that Steam’s owner, Valve, had taken new measures that resulted in a large drop in the value of skins gambled from £3.7 billion in 2016 to £316 million in 2017. However, Lauren Foye said many sites do not have a hard time adjusting to the new rules. Foye said Valve, who created the skins market, had set up the sites for success.

Valve claims they have no relationship with skin gambling sites and regularly acts to prevent the activity. Though the company has recently taken action by shutting-down some Steam accounts associated with OPSkins, a skin trading and cash-out website, it seems like more action needs to be taken in order to truly combat the problem.

Lauren Foye challenged that notion. She added, “Steam is gaining up to 5% commission per item traded. It’s a considerable market for them, which is why they’re not really cracking down on it.”

The majority of the virtual items traded on Steam and other games come from loot boxes or skins. Such randomized video game items are currently banned in Belgium, while they are regulated in China and Japan. Loot boxes’ unpredictable rewards make them addictive, much like slot machine gaming creates addicts among a small percentage of gamblers.

Nottingham Trent Researcher Calls for Action

Professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University, Mark Griffiths, said he believes loot boxes have all the attributes of gambling: “All my research shows that the earlier you start gambling, the more likely you are to continue gambling into your adulthood. The video game industry needs to take more responsibility in terms of a duty of care.”

The UK Gambling Commission has different views, stating that most loot boxes are not considered gambling because their prizes cannot be exchanged for money. A commission spokesman said that loot boxes “pose risks to young people”.

The regulator’s spokesman continued, saying, “Where in-game items that are derived from loot boxes can be readily exchanged for cash, the loot boxes themselves are likely to fall within the definition of gambling. Whilst Valve are not licensed and regulated by us we have shared our concerns with the company and expect them to be actively enforcing the terms of their user agreement. Failure to do so risks elements of their games being classified as gambling.”

About the Author
April Bergman avatar
April Bergman

April Bergman was a longtime news blogger for BOC. She wrote gaming news posts from January 2013 until September 2018. April also wrote slot reviews, strategy articles, and online casino reviews for the site.

April Bergman began in the online gaming industry in August 2010. From 2010 to 2013, she managed evergreen content for several top online casino. Her duties included developing and maintaining multiple websites in the gaming space. When not writing about online gambling, April loves horse racing, travel, photography, and gardening. She's began in the business as a devoted poker players and spent several years as a card game editor on the now-defunct DMOZ. These days, she lives with her husband and two children in the Toronto metropolitan area.

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April Bergman was a longtime news blogger for BOC. She wrote gaming news posts from January 2013 until September 2018. April also wrote slot reviews, strategy articles, and online casino reviews for the site.

April Bergman began in the online gaming industry in August 2010. From 2010 to 2013, she managed evergreen content for several top online casino. Her duties included developing and maintaining multiple websites in the gaming space. When not writing about online gambling, April loves horse racing, travel, photography, and gardening. She's began in the business as a devoted poker players and spent several years as a card game editor on the now-defunct DMOZ. These days, she lives with her husband and two children in the Toronto metropolitan area.

READ MORE
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