What do loot boxes and gambling have in common?

14 Sep 2023

Online gaming has become a global phenomenon, drawing players into immersive virtual worlds.

Within gaming, the rise of loot boxes has generated debate, particularly concerning their similarities with gambling.

This blog post provides an overview on loot boxes within online gaming, the potential harms they share with gambling, and how you can safely and responsibly continue to enjoy gaming.


What are loot boxes in games?

A loot box is a virtual container that players can purchase or earn in online gaming.

These containers hold randomised, virtual in-game items that are rare and valuable. The prizes may be items such as virtual cosmetics, character skins, weapons, or other enhancements.

The specific contents of a loot box are usually unknown until it is opened, adding an element of surprise and anticipation. These feelings are akin to those experienced when gambling.


Loot boxes vs gambling

Loot boxes and gambling share some commonalities which should not be ignored.

Four key elements of their similarities include chance, harmful behaviours, financial implications, and losing track of time.

Chance: Both loot boxes and gambling use chance as a key element. The randomised nature of opening loot boxes mimics the thrill of gambling: a sense of excitement and risk.

Harmful behaviours: Like gambling, loot boxes can trigger problematic behaviours. Loot boxes engage players using sporadic rewards that lead to a release of dopamine in the brain. The randomised nature can foster addictive patterns in vulnerable individuals.

Financial implications: While gambling explicitly requires money to be played, loot boxes offer in-game purchases. Both loot boxes and gambling can create a sense of needing to chase losses or pursue wins.

Studies show that loot box purchases expose players to risks, such as overspending, which can lead to financial harm. The desire to keep spending can become an addictive tendency, jeopardising a gamer’s financial wellbeing.

Losing track of time: Like gambling, loot boxes have the potential to captivate players into spending lots of time on the game. The pursuit of the prize and the allure of the unknown can be a powerful attraction, resulting in players losing track of time and neglecting other aspects of their lives.

“Sometimes it’s not even about real money, but the amount of time spent to potentially accumulate enough in-game currency so that you don’t need to use real money. But then you may feel guilt for spending so much time to gain something that has no guarantee… This can be the hardest habit to break.”

-GHS counsellor


Engaging in safer gaming practices

Engaging with loot boxes using safer gambling practices can reduce and prevent harm.

Here are some important steps:

Education: Continue to increase your knowledge of loot boxes, the associated risks, and the similarities to gambling.

Responsible engagement: Understand the potential harm so that you can make informed decisions.

Setting limits: Set person limits on time and money spent gaming, particularly with loot boxes. If you’re a parent, monitor your child’s gaming habits and limit access to your bank cards.

Taking breaks: Make a conscious effort to take regular breaks from gaming to engage in other hobbies and to look after yourself.

Seeking support: For anyone struggling with harmful gambling behaviours or negative consequences associated with loot boxes, it can be extremely helpful to reach out for professional support. The Gambling Help Service and other counselling services can improve your wellbeing and quality of life.


The future of gaming and gambling

As online gaming continues to evolve, it is important to understand the similarities between gambling and loot boxes.

Being aware can help prevent you from potential harms, ensuring that online gaming remains a source of joy and entertainment.



Gambling Help Queensland offers free, confidential, 24/7 support and advice. We assist people who gamble, who are at risk of gambling harm, and anyone affected by someone else’s gambling. 

You can confidentially talk to a counsellor by calling the 24/7 helpline on 1800 858 858.

Contact us

If gambling is impacting your life or a loved one's life, it's okay to reach out for help. It’s free and confidential.

Call the 24/7 Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858

Face-to-face counselling locations