The deepening nexus between video games and gambling: a concern for public health

Problem-gambling among women aggressively increased during pandemic lockdowns in the U.K., and is causing concern to experts in the field.

Recent research has unveiled a more profound and concerning connection between video games and gambling than previously recognized. This finding comes from a comprehensive study conducted by the University of York, highlighting how various gaming practices, notably token wagering, real-money gaming, and social casino spending, are intricately linked to problem gambling. The implications of these findings are vast, shedding new light on the potential public health risks emerging from the gaming industry.

The complex web of gaming and gambling

The study, led by Dr. David Zendle from the Department of Computer Science at the University of York, builds upon earlier research which revealed a connection between problem gambling and video game loot boxes. Dr. Zendle’s latest research goes a step further by identifying other gaming practices equally linked to problem gambling. The study’s insights are alarming, indicating that players who engage in these gaming practices are more likely to suffer from disordered gaming. Disordered gaming is characterized by persistent and repeated gaming behavior that causes significant impairment or distress to the individual.

Dr. Zendle’s comments shed light on the complexity of the issue: “These findings suggest that the relationship between gaming and problem gambling is more complex than many people think.” This complexity is rooted in the various novel gaming practices that incorporate elements of gambling, all of which are linked to problem gambling and are surprisingly prevalent. This prevalence points towards an emerging public health risk, necessitating urgent further research.

An increasing number of people are getting addicted to online gambling.

The study’s methodology and findings

The study’s methodology involved a group of nearly 1,100 participants, quota-sampled to represent the UK population in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity. Participants were questioned about their gaming and gambling habits. The findings were startling, with 18.5% of participants engaging in behavior that related to both gaming and gambling. This included activities like playing social casino games or spending money on loot boxes.

Dr. Zendle highlighted regulatory loopholes that allow some gambling-related elements of video games to evade strict oversight. He pointed out that social casinos are essentially simulations of gambling where real money can be spent, yet they are not regulated as gambling because winnings cannot be converted into cash. This loophole, and others like it, highlight the need for regulations that address the similarities between gambling and video games comprehensively. “Loot boxes aren’t the only element of video games that overlaps with gambling: They’re just a tiny symptom of this broader convergence,” Dr. Zendle added.

Regulatory responses and the ineffectiveness of current measures

The study’s implications have already resonated within legislative circles. Last year, University of York academics, including Dr. Zendle, contributed to a House of Commons select committee inquiry. The report from this inquiry called for the regulation of video game loot boxes under gambling law and proposed banning their sale to children. Similarly, Dr. Zendle provided key evidence to a House of Lords select committee inquiry, which recommended regulating loot boxes as gambling.

However, despite these legislative efforts, significant gaps remain in effectively regulating the intersection of video gaming and gambling. For instance, initiatives like Spelpaus has proved ineffective, which was initially designed to offer a self-exclusion tool for problem gamblers in addressing the nuanced and complex relationships between gaming and gambling. This ineffectiveness stems from the evolving nature of gaming practices and the sophisticated integration of gambling-like elements within them. Thus, there is an urgent need for comprehensive regulations that go beyond targeting individual elements like loot boxes and address the broader convergence of gaming and gambling.

Conclusion: A call for comprehensive regulation and awareness

The University of York’s study is a crucial wake-up call, highlighting the need for a more nuanced understanding and regulation of the gaming industry. As gaming continues to evolve and incorporate more elements akin to gambling, it becomes imperative for regulatory bodies, game developers, and the public to recognize and address these concerns. Effective regulation, combined with increased awareness and responsible gaming practices, is essential in mitigating the potential public health risks posed by the deepening nexus between video games and gambling.