The province of British Columbia and the BC Lottery Corporation are helping push the conversation around responsible gambling in Canada, and video game loot boxes, into the spotlight.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced on Dec. 5 an investment of $1.4 million into the Centre for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia. The most recent commitment marks the third funding term for the centre dating back to 2014.
Notably, it was this group of UBC researchers, who earlier this year, raised concern over video game loot boxes and their relation to gambling. Loot boxes are randomized prize generators that can be accessed through gameplay, in-game currency, or directly with real money.
But, according to centre director Luke Clark, they’re essentially a mystery box inside a video game. For that reason, the feature has drawn comparisons to slot machines.
“There’s been a lot of concern about whether loot boxes are effectively a disguised form of gambling,” Clark said in March 2023.
Since debuting over 10 years ago, the prominent in-game feature has become a fixture in nearly all popular gaming franchises.
Centre looking into convergence of gambling and video games
Researchers at UBC released their first round of loot box-related findings some nine months ago.
By that time, the issue had already blossomed into an international matter. A report completed by researchers at the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton concluded that loot boxes are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.”
The European group’s determination came as no surprise to Clark and the centre, who in their nearly 10-year existence, have remained attuned to both domestic and international developments in gambling research.
Now, equipped with greater funding, the centre can expand its focus on emerging forms of gambling. One of those areas, Clark told the Vancouver Island Free Daily, is the evolving convergence of gambling and video games.
Clark’s words echo that of Canadian youth problem gambling expert Dr. Jeff Derevensky, who spoke with PlayCanada in October.
“What we’ve been studying over the last few years is the amalgamation and the merger between gaming and gambling,” Derevensky said. “You go on some of these games, online games which are for fun, and you can actually start gambling with real money.”
Derevensky is the director of The International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviours founded at McGill in Montreal in 1992.
UBC researchers also plan to study data BCLC’s PlayNow site
As it stands, PlayNow serves as the only legal online casino and sports betting site in British Columbia.
For Clark and his fellow researchers, it is an untapped wealth of data in need of exploration. On paper, the two organizations share quite a bit in common, specifically an emphasis on player health.
In February, BCLC revamped its voluntary self-exclusion program, reaffirming its desire to have the healthiest bettors in the global gambling game. Pat Davis, president and CEO of BCLC, noted that working with UBC researchers will only further that commitment.
“At BCLC, the well-being of our players is paramount and we’re always looking for opportunities to offer safer gambling experiences,” said Davis in a press release. “Knowledge that we gain from the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC helps us consider enhancements to the programs and initiatives that promote player health at BCLC and beyond.”