Children as young as 11 regularly gamble on ‘loot boxes’ in video games and mobile apps in Northern Ireland, spending an average of up to £600 a year, new figures show.
They emerged as a gambling charity headed to Downing Street in a bid to expose the UK’s hidden epidemic of young people spending millions of pounds every year on in-app purchases.
The gaming industry has come under severe criticism in recent years over the rise of loot boxes – virtual crates that players can purchase which provide random rewards like weapons, costumes and other perks.
A survey by the Safer Online Gambling Group (SOGG) estimates that families in the UK could be losing over £270m each year through spending on loot boxes.
It found that a third of young people in NI (aged 11-18) use loot boxes and in-game purchases regularly, spending on average £500-600 a year.
One in 10 young people are thought to have accidentally spent money on in-app purchases and 95% used gaming apps on their mobile or tablet devices, according to the report.
The survey also documents the rise in adverts being shown for betting to young people underage on social media and through affiliate advertising platforms inside mobile and tablet based games.
SOGG, led by 26-year-old entrepreneur Adam Bradford and his father David, was born out of the pair’s joint concern about gambling addiction and gaming which mimics gambling for children.
The pair have campaigned against Fixed Odds Betting Terminals and lobby for tighter regulation on online gambling.
Adam Bradford said: “It is simply absurd that young people who are not even of legal age to place a bet are being exposed to gambling content and insidious addictive gaming from the age of three.
“One case study told us that his child had been playing a maths game on his iPad and was then incentivised to level up the game and at the end of each level was rewarded with casino-lookalike chips into a digital wallet.
“The links between gaming and gambling need to be studied carefully.
“The gambling industry needs to make absolutely sure that its affiliates and marketing agencies are screening out young people from digital adverts so that those who are under-age for betting are not exposed to addictive content and enthralling free bet offers before they are even legally allowed to vote.”
The Safer Online Gambling Group handed in their research to Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street today and are now calling on the industry and Government to act.
The charity believes in-game purchasing should be barred by default on games and apps and that gameplay should not mimic gambling or link social or financial success to purchases made. They also want tighter rules on advertising and affiliates, so young people have less chance of seeing gambling content under age. In its survey of 500 young people and families, the group found that half of young people (aged 11-18) had used a loot box recently.