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Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia warns parents about ‘loot boxes’

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — An organization aiming to help people with gambling addiction is warning West Virginia parents about “loot boxes” in mobile games.

Sheila Moran, director of communications with The Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia, said loot boxes are ways for kids to pay for a chance to win in-app items, including costumes for characters or even getting to another level in the game.

“With a mystery box, you pay a set amount for a chance to win it,” she said. “You may or may not get the item you want, so you do it again and again. Then you realize you’ve spent a bunch of money and don’t have the thing you were trying to get in the game.”

Loot boxes are found in many games. Moran mentioned several including Counter-Strike, Global Offensive, Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront.

According to national media reports, Apple changed its developer guidelines, recently requiring games to let players know the odds of getting a particular item in the box.

Jennifer Davis-Walton, program director of the organization, said these loot boxes are similar to the way slot machines are programmed with intermittent rewards. Moran said her concern is that mystery boxes could encourage children to gamble.

“People are concerned about exposing them to gambling because they feel this could be conditioning children to become used to something that looks like gambling,” she said.

Moran said teenagers can have gambling addictions, too.

“A lot of kids do gamble and a lot of kids, because they may be naive about the odds, may end up getting into problems with gambling at a young age,” she said. “People may think it’s odd because their kids may not be be old enough to buy lottery tickets or anything like that but a lot of them may be gambling with friends or online.

“We see these problems when teens become young adults, they do more legal gambling with their own credit cards. That increases exponentially.”

She said parents should pay attention to credit card statements to see if their kids are racking up charges through games.

“Parents should pay attention to what kids are doing online,” Moran said. “Not just the money spent but the amount of time spent.”

The organization operates the 1-800-Gambler helpline, a 24/7 service to help those who have symptoms of gambling addictions. If treatment is needed, the organization will refer a person to one of more than 70 statewide therapists.

Moran encourages parents who have concerns or questions about child gambling problems to call the helpline.

“With the hotline, we take calls from people who gamble and sometimes people will say they’re not broke but they’re spending money every day gambling,” she said. “Aside from these loot boxes, parents should determine how much time their kids spend on video games and if they’re doing that in place of doing homework or socializing with friends.”

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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