NHS Loot Box Ban

NHS mental health director wants ban to reduce gambling addiction risks

NHS mental health director, Claire Murdoch, has called on gaming companies to ban loot boxes from their products.

In response to growing concerns about addiction to gaming, the NHS has confirmed the opening of a new treatment centre, alongside up to 14 new NHS gambling clinics nationwide, to address significant mental ill health linked to addiction.

The investment is part of the NHS Long Term Plan to improve mental health, backed by at least £2.3 billion extra funding within the next five years, helping hundreds of thousands more children and adults to get timely, expert care.

“Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.

“Young people’s health is at stake, and although the NHS is stepping up with these new, innovative services available to families through our Long Term Plan, we cannot do this alone, so other parts of society must do what they can to limit risks and safeguard children’s wellbeing.”

NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch

Latest figures from the UK’s Gambling Commission show 55,000 children are classed as having a gambling problem, and the NHS estimates there are around 400,000 people with a serious gambling problem in England alone.

Recent data shows that more than half of UK parents allow their children to play video games intended for people aged 18 or over, without supervision or having played the game themselves.

Unfortunately, the Gambling Commission does not regulate some loot boxes due to a loophole meaning they are not classed as gambling. The loophole involves games where no money can be cashed out – which is a simple but significant loophole in many popular titles.

To tackle the problem Murdoch proposed the following points for games companies to implement:

  • Ban sales of games with loot boxes that encourage children to gamble
  • Introduce fair and realistic spending limits to prevent people from spending thousands in games
  • Make clear to users what percentage chance they have of obtaining the items they want before they purchase loot boxes
  • Support parents by increasing their awareness on the risks of in-game spending

Other recommendations include; an industry levy for independent research into gaming side effects in the long term, and some new ways to keep children safely away from age-restricted platforms and games.

“As the Director of the National Centre for Gaming Disorders, the first NHS clinic to treat gaming addiction, I am fully in favour of taking a public health approach and bringing in a regulatory body to oversee the gaming industry products currently causing great concerns to parents and professionals.

Loot boxes are only one of several features that will need to be investigated and indeed researched. We need an evidence-based approach to ensure our young people and gamers in general do not continue to be subjected to new and increasingly harmful  products without our intervention.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, psychiatrist and founder of CNWL’s National Problem Gambling Clinic

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