Australia: Parliament investigates video game gambling

Video games that feature gambling-like activities could face stricter controls under a wide-ranging Parliamentary enquiry that has been launched to examine online gambling regulations, particularly in light of new payment options and blanket advertising that reaches children.

The Inquiry into online gambling and its impacts on problem gamblers, which is accepting submissions through 11 November, has been convened by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs (SPLA) with an eye to evaluate existing consumer protections aimed at reducing online problem gambling, counselling and support services, access to online gambling education programs, and more.

Its terms of reference include an exploration of whether new low-touch payment options – recent years have seen a surge in use of in-app purchases, cryptocurrencyemail-based transfers, and the like – are suitably addressed by current regulations such as the recently-updated ePayments Code.

The inquiry will also explore the “appropriateness” of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001’s definition of ‘gambling service’ and whether changes are required to address gambling-like activities in video games, including loot boxes and social casino games.

Last year, researchers concluded that loot boxes – purchasable video game content that provides randomised prizes – “are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling”, with GambleAware research into over 14,000 UK gamers linking their use to young, lower-educated males.

The new Australian enquiry will follow the lead of the UK’s Gambling Law Review, which was launched in 2020 and produced a white paper that has been repeatedly delayed – raising the concerns of social welfare advocates concerned about gambling-related harm both online and off.