Loot Boxes & gambling

On August 7, 2019, NCPG participated in the Federal Trade Commission’s workshop about loot boxes & gambling. 

The all-day event featured three panels. NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte joined panel 3: A Level Playing Field – What’s Fair Game? along with Common Sense Media, Consumer Reports, and Entertainment Software Rating Board, moderated by staff members from the FTC Division of Advertising Practices.

Learn what Whyte discussed below, as well as the full detail schedule.

NCPG perspective on loot boxes

National Council on Problem Gambling believes that many loot box systems already meet criteria for gambling.

A loot crate system may still have negative impacts, including gambling problems.

Some loot boxes that have the same or similar characteristics of slot machines may not meet legal definitions of gambling but carry the same risks for addiction

A legal definition of gambling is not required for a feature like a loot box to cause harm.

DSM and ICD clinical criteria for gambling disorder do not require that rewards be “real money” or preclude a diagnosis if the client played with virtual coins or received several free plays before spending excessive amounts of time and money purchasing loot boxes.

Factors common to many loot boxes and slot machines:

  • random distribution of prizes
  • variable value of the prizes
  • visual and sound cues associated with participation and reward
  • trigger urges to play along with increased excitement and faster play.

Consequences of gambling problems:

  • financial harm
  • emotional difficulties
  • poor work or school performance
  • poor mental and physical health
  • higher rates of depression and substance abuse

Strong regulation is important, but it cannot be effective at reducing harm unless accompanied by equally robust prevention, education, treatment, recovery, and research services.

NCPG recommends addressing concerns around loot boxes and addiction with a multi-layered approach to users, parents, and communities to ensure an appropriate range of protections is put into place for youth and other vulnerable populations.

    • better inform consumers
    • prevent gambling-related problems
    • facilitate treatment-seeking
    • support recovery
    • increase research to enable evidence-based solutions
watch the NCPG presentation

Starting at 1:42:45

schedule details

August 7, 2019

10am – 4:30pm

Constitution Center, 400 7th St., SW, Washington, D.C

10:15 am
Panel 1: Treasure or Trifle? A Macro Look at Microtransactions

This panel will explore the role of loot boxes and similar mechanics in the video game ecosystem and the impact of these monetization models on end users.

1:15 pm
Panel 2: Head in the Game – What Drives Loot Box Spending?

This panel will address potential social, psychological, and economic motivations associated with loot box spending.

2:45 pm
Panel 3: A Level Playing Field – What’s Fair Game?

This panel will discuss current initiatives for disclosing in‐game microtransactions and explore ideas for other mechanisms that may enhance consumer protection.


  • Ariel Fox Johnson
    Senior Counsel for Policy and Privacy, Common Sense Media
  • Anna Laitin
    Director of Financial Policy, Consumer Reports
  • Patricia Vance
    President, Entertainment Software Rating Board
  • Keith Whyte
    Executive Director, National Council on Problem Gambling


  • Mary Johnson and William Ducklow
    BCP Division of Advertising Practices, FTC