There are renewed calls for the government to classify certain features of video games as gambling.
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has published a report revealing that young people see some in-game purchases as addictive.
The charity is calling for regulation over loot boxes and skin betting.
Loot boxes are mystery items embedded within games that can be purchased for randomised rewards, including ‘skins’ which change the appearance of a character. The skins can then be used to trade on third-party websites for real money.
One young gamer told Sky News he has been playing for nearly 10 years, and he wants to see a change in the law.
Alastair Copland said: “I was asking for money for my birthday and for Christmas to spend on loot boxes and games, I never told my parents that’s what I was doing. That’s where my spare income went.
“At the push of a button you can buy a loot box. Within five minutes you can put a skin on a website and start gambling with it.”
The global loot box market is estimated to be worth £20bn, with the UK market valued at £700m, with many games containing loot boxes popular with children.
The RSPH report found that a majority of young people see both purchasing a loot box (58%) and taking part in skin betting (60%) as forms of highly addictive gambling.
Shirley Cramer CBE, the RSPH’s chief executive, said: “The rise of loot boxes and skin betting have seen young people introduced to the same mechanisms that underpin gambling, through an industry that operates unchecked and unregulated on the back alleys of the internet, which young people can access from their bedrooms.
“As with any public health issue, this is one that requires a combination of measures focusing on both education and regulation.
“Young people are not universally opposed to gambling and gambling-like activity, they simply want to be able to recognise where it appears in their lives and to make an informed decision as to whether to avoid it altogether, or to participate in a way that lowers the stakes for their health and well being.”
The RSPH is calling for a number of measures to be introduced, including a commitment from the gaming industry to ensure gamble-free video and mobile games for under-18s and the development of education programmes to inform parents, carers and teachers on how to support young people around gambling harms.
A government spokesperson said: “We have introduced a wave of tougher measures, including tighter age verification checks, stricter rules around the content and targeting of adverts and national specialist support for young people through the NHS Long Term Plan.
“We are also ensuring that all pupils are taught about the risks of online gambling through the new Health Education Curriculum from 2020.”
The Commons Digital, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) and the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, have both called for loot boxes to be classified as gambling.
Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO of Ukie, the trade body that represents the UK video games industry, said: “The games industry takes its responsibility to its players seriously.
“While we share the Gambling Commission’s previous conclusion that loot boxes do not constitute a form of gambling, the video games industry welcomes the opportunity to engage with the government on its review of the relevant regulations.”