ARE loot boxes, a popular part of many online games, a form of gambling?

This was the question asked to a member of the Gambling Commission by a Bradford Council committee during a discussion of problem gambling in the district.

Members were told that the practice was not legally classed as gambling, but Councillors said the practice bore all the hallmarks of gambling.

Loot boxes are a major part of many online games. Users can pay for the virtual “mystery box” that can contain something useful for the player - such as a weapon or a new character. But players do not know what is in the box, and it could well contain a low value item, or an item they already have.

Globally the loot box market is worth £20 billion a year.

Rob Burkitt from the Gambling Commission appeared before Bradford Council’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee on Thursday evening.

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The Committee has recently debated the issue of gambling in the district, and how it can have a detrimental impact on some communities.

Councillor David Green (Lab, Wibsey) said: “Loot boxes are something predominantly bought by teenagers.

“It is not virtual money, it is real money they they buy it with. You buy loot boxes and don’t know what you’re getting.

“You could get a magical suit of armour, you could get a spear of destiny - really good band by the way - or you could get nothing.

“This is targeted to teenagers. It is a bit of a legal minefield, and is a bit of a back door way of gambling money when you could get nothing.

“When you buy one you don’t know if you’re getting a suit of armour or a turnip.”

Mr Burkitt said that legally buying loot boxes was not classed as gambling, but added: “To all of us it feels like betting, as you don’t know what you’re going to get. It feels like gambling, but the way the gambling act is written our understanding is that it doesn’t qualify as gambling.”

Councillor Richard Dunbar (Lab, Thornton and Allerton) said: “You are purchasing something you don’t know the value of.

“You can’t control it this under current legislation. It is exploiting young people and that can be quite a dangerous thing. If we don’t get a grip on the situation it could get worse.”

The Gambling Commission is responsible for regulating gambling and supervising gaming law in Great Britain.

Mr Burkitt was asked if he had any concerns about problem gambling in Bradford. He said a recent study of Leeds found that there were likely to be twice as many people in the city with problem gambling issues as the national average.

With Bradford having similar demographics to Leeds, that statistic was likely to be the same here, he told the meeting.

He added: “There is quite a young profile to the city. The male, 18-25 group is particularly at risk of problem gambling.”

Members were told it was difficult to realise the extent of problem gambling in an area, as people would rarely admit they have a problem.

He said: “No-one will come knocking at the Council’s door to tell you they have a problem."