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Are Loot Boxes Leading to Gambling Addiction?

A “loot box” is a reward given in many video games that resembles gambling in that it can be used to buy features in the game that might otherwise cost real cash. Researchers have known for some time that loot boxes cause addiction-related problems.

A study conducted by Gregory A. Brooks and Luke Clark at the Centre for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia found that “loot box engagement is correlated with gambling beliefs and problematic gambling behaviour in adult gamers.”

Brooks and Clark conducted two studies on Mechanical Turk, the first with 144 adults and the second with 113 undergraduates. For the first survey, 88.9% had opened a loot box, with 94.8% of the second survey undergraduates having done so. Participants were evaluated against the Internet Gaming Disorder Scale, based on two variables: the amount of time spent gaming and the financial expenditure. The authors concluded:

[T]his study provides empirical evidence of associations between loot boxes (i.e., risky use, expenditure) and problem gambling, as well as problem internet gaming.

That was back in 2019 and things have gotten much worse since then. The U.S. Supreme Court opened the states to legalized sports betting and nearly 40 states have passed legislation allowing it. In combination with the addictive powers of the ubiquitous smartphone, sports gambling, casino gambling, and gaming are available in the car, in the bedroom, at school, and 24/7 virtually everywhere.

A 2022 analysis of 16 studies of loot box behavior found that “the studies suggested a significant positive relationship between engagement with loot boxes and problematic gaming and gambling.” Pursuit of the desired loot box item leads to “entrapment,” where the player increases the time spent playing and the financial outlays, not wanting to give up on their previous “investment” in the game.

An article in the Toledo Blade states the percentage of 13-14-year-old gamers who have played with loot boxes increased from 25% in 2019 to 32% in 2022. Megan Poliquin, manager of problem gambling treatment at the Zepf Center, a well-known behavioral treatment facility in Toledo, Ohio, says the loot boxes are “priming the pathway” to gambling addiction.

Ohio legalized sports betting in 2022, and calls at the state’s Problem Gambling Helpline shot up 55% in one year, from 6,800 to 10,600. Toledo Blade quotes Poliquin as saying, “The addiction comes with a lot of lies, financial stresses and thoughts of suicide.” Some signs to watch for:

  • Chasing losses, as in “don’t worry, I’ll get it all back.”
  • Borrowing money to finance a bet or cover a lost bet.
  • Stealing money or other valuables.
  • Lying about financial losses.
  • Lying about the amount of time spent gaming.

If you or someone you care about has a gambling or gaming problem, a good start is the National Problem Gambling Helpline 1-800-GAMBLER. The Helpline is operated by the National Council on Problem Gambling as a hub connecting people looking for assistance to local resources.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published April 9, 2024.


“Associations between loot box use, problematic gaming and gambling, and gambling-related cognitions,” Addictive Behaviors, September 2019.

“Loot box engagement: A scoping review of primary studies on prevalence and association with problematic gaming and gambling,” PlosOne, January 27, 2022.

“Going for broke: Gambling addiction isn’t a long shot as sufferers seek help,” Toledo Blade, March 31, 2024.

Image Copyright: Kemot44 used under Creative Commons CC3.0 License.


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