Gambling helpline calls related to gaming have doubled in the past year

The lines between gaming and gambling are becoming increasingly blurred, with features such as loot boxes, pack openings and gaming streaks.

While these activities don't technically fall under the UK’s legal definition of gambling, their addictive nature and financial implications suggest otherwise.

Many argue that the addictive nature of these activities is alarmingly similar to gambling.

Data given to us exclusively by GamCare, suggests the number of calls to gambling helplines related to gaming has doubled in the past year, reaching an all-time high.

In the financial year 2023-24, the National Gambling Helpline saw 129 individual callers disclose video games as one of their gambling-related activities, the highest of any year in record and over double the previous year.

Additionally, in the calendar years 2022 and 2023, 15% of the young people referred to GamCare’s Young People Service were referred in for gaming-related harm.

Young people, especially under-18s, find online gambling and gambling-like activities disturbingly accessible. Popular platforms like EA FC, Roblox, and Fortnite often feature these mechanisms, including purchasing loot boxes or receiving rewards for maintaining streaks.

Gamers play on a Playstation 4 during EGX 2016 at the NEC in Birmingham Credit: /PA images

What is a 'Gambling-Like' Activity?

According to a report published by GambleAware, the term "gambling-like activity" can be confusing, especially for younger people who may not recognise their behaviour as gambling.

Common forms include loot boxes virtual items that can be bought or earned, containing random rewards. Streak rewards, incentives for consecutive daily logins or activities that mimic gambling reward systems.

Many young people report engaging in these activities to relieve boredom or for enjoyment, often not recognising them as gambling. They also believe that if little or no money is involved, or if there is an element of skill, it doesn’t count as gambling.

Charities are calling for new vocabulary and clearer definitions to address these grey areas.

They argue that current terminology doesn’t capture the nuanced ways gaming and gambling intersect, particularly for younger audiences who are more susceptible to these influences.

Zoë Osmond GambleAware Chief Executive Officer

Chief Executive Officer of Gamble Aware, Zoë Osmond says that "Blurring of lines between gambling and gaming are confusing, and children are therefore not aware of the risks, and we know that a lot of the content out there is geared to be bright, loud, catchy, cartoon-like, and that attracts children and that takes them down the there.

"So there needs to be much stricter regulation around the type of content that is also allowed to run."

EA and Roblox both declined to comment on the report, however, Epic Games said: "This report misrepresents how Fortnite operates.

"We have never had gambling in Fortnite and there are no paid random item loot boxes. Fortnite is free to download, there are no pay-to-win mechanics and players don’t need to make purchases to get access to gameplay updates."

Understanding and recognising the risks associated with gambling-like activities in gaming is essential to protect vulnerable individuals.

The conversation around these issues must continue to evolve, ensuring that regulators are aware of the implications and can act accordingly.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, you can contact the following organisations:

NHS: Help for problem gamblingGamCare Young Peoples Support ServiceGambleAwareThe National Gambling Helpline: 0808 8020 133

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…