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Are Online Games Prepping Kids for Gambling?

Published: July 11, 2022

The story is becoming a common one in Ohio: a parent opens their credit card bill for the month, only to discover that their child has spent a surprising amount of money on video game loot boxes, power ups, or skins. 

Many online and phone games now include all those and more, which are easy to buy with real world money. What people might not know is that certain video game items can simulate gambling, potentially exposing children to the activity. 

Loot boxes, for example, are in-game  secret chests, boosts or items that offer a “chance” at rare rewards . Opening the box can simulate pulling a lever at the slots. The box opens and a random selection of rewards pop out on screen. As the items emerge, they are often accompanied by visuals with colorful animations flashing and pleasing sounds. Many people that play games with loot boxes are young, and many games with them are marketed directly towards 2 to 17-year-olds.

Some loot box items can be traded, like character skins. Skins are game items that allow the player to customize their character’s look, animations, and voice lines. Many players want to choose a skin that expresses an aspect of their personal identity, and so game creators sometimes create special edition or limited quantity skins to draw players in to buy more loot boxes. In certain online marketplaces, skins can even be used to make a bet on the outcome of esports games, exposing underage players to the world of sports betting.

Studies have shown that children exposed to gambling before age 12 are four times more likely to develop a problem with gambling when they’re older. And since many of the in-game elements such as loot boxes and skins mimic gambling, the potential for increased risk of gambling later in life is a legitimate concern for parents and caregivers. 

That’s why Change the Game Ohio, is dedicated to increasing awareness about the realities of youth gambling and offers tips to parents, educators, and children. If you think your child might be exposed to youth gambling or you want to learn more about the issue to start a conversation in your home, classroom, or workplace, visit

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