Diary: loot box blinkers, new DCMS head and Swedish switch up

26 July 2019

Happy Friday igamers! This week Diary ponders the Gambling Commission's position on loot boxes, mulls Nicky Morgan's appointment to the DCMS, considers the latest developments in Sweden and reminds you to vote for the most influential women.

Loot boxes blinkers
So far the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) investigation into immersive and addictive technologies has made for some interesting reading. This was particularly the case when an Electronic Arts representative dismissed concerns loot boxes constituted gambling and instead likened them to Kinder Eggs. What was perhaps more surprising was the Gambling Commission’s continued position that loot boxes are not gambling when giving evidence to MPs this week. The Commission has admittedly expressed the view before, most notably back in late 2017 when executive director Tim Miller published a blog post saying as much, albeit mere weeks later telling Sky News it was monitoring the area closely and that the line between gambling and gaming was “increasingly blurry”. In the intervening period, regulators in other jurisdictions have increasingly taken the opposite view on loot boxes – indeed Belgium has banned them – and the Commission itself has put out data that confirms a large number of children are purchasing loot boxes, certainly a much higher number than those taking part in activities the Commission does consider gambling. According to the BBC, Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur told a select committee this week that while there were "significant concerns" about the boxes, they still do not constitute gambling. Apparently, the Commission’s position is now that because there are no authorised sites that allow users to trade loot boxes for cash they don’t have monetary value – despite the fact it’s widely acknowledged skins betting sites allow users to do just that. While technically Gambling Commission programme director Brad Enright may have had a point when he said the video games industry should do more, that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t step in if they don’t. The Gambling Commission has taken some huge steps in the right direction with its harm reduction policies of late, recently stepping up efforts to prevent suicide linked to problem gambling. But with recent research suggesting there’s at least as great a link between loot boxes and problem gambling as there is with suicide, surely it should be stepping up in this area too?

All change... or not... at DCMS?
Sticking with the DCMS, the gambling industry may have been hoping that the expected cull of cabinet ministers that took place once Boris Johnson was confirmed as new prime minister may have brought someone sympathetic to the industry's woes. At first glance, the appointment of Nicky Morgan would not appear to offer much hope. After all, Morgan published a widely reported blog post last year lambasting the government for its delay in cutting the maximum FOBT stakes, saying: "These machines have become known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling world, and we know that they can cause addiction, misery and even death." On the other hand, last September she said she'd refuse to serve in a cabinet under Johnson and nevertheless this week tweeted her delight at doing so, saying it was "an enormous privilege to take on this  fabulous role" so perhaps she's open to persuasion on other matters as well. If the last couple of years have shown anything about British politics it's that pretty much anything can happen.

Scandi Noir part three
The Diary might be clutching at straws here, but it's hard not to be intrigued by a Swedish court's decision to overturn a quartet of decisions by the country's gambling regulator Spelinspektionen. The authority had deemed four companies worthy of year-long operating licences, prompting the four to lodge appeals. While the court did support the regulator's decision-making process, it also extended each company's licence to three-year terms. This could be insignificant, but it suggests that Spelinspektionen will not have everything its own way. Considering a growing number of companies are appealing against enforcement action, most notably Global Gaming, this could be a sign that the Swedish courts will help strike compromises between the industry and the authorities.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Sweden...
One LinkedIn post pointed out a somewhat odd quirk in the system. As one wag comments, "as long as no one who is betting on the children who are betting"...

Vote for the industry's most influential women
We all know the gambling industry boasts not only the highest paid female boss in the UK but also the highest paid chief exec of any gender, which is certainly something to celebrate. But this industry, like many others, still has a diversity problem and a gender pay gap in favour of men. To help redress the balance, this week we launched our second Most Influential Women Survey and we're looking for input from the industry on the women who are shaping the igaming space. If you have someone in mind, get voting; if not, see our article from earlier this week for some inspiration.

That's it for this week. See you next week!