Private school leaders are urging Australia’s politicians to address the potential dangers of schoolchildren participating in ‘micro transactions’ in digital games.
The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) said transactions, such as ‘loot boxes’, ‘bundles’ and ‘crates’, constitutes a form of online gambling and should be more strongly regulated.
A study published by the Australian Gambling Research Centre indicates that around 20% of adults and adolescents who play simulated gambling games move to online commercial gambling.
The Association’s call follows a unanimous vote by the Senate to refer the issue to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry.
“Simulated gambling games and games that include gambling elements risk normalising gambling as an everyday activity for young people,” AHISA CEO, Beth Blackwood, said.
“This risk can be reduced if Australia adopts regulatory action now. We can begin with an official determination that chance-based micro-transactions in digital games are a form of gambling to bring such games within the remit of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.”
Blackwood said Australia can also learn from legislation already introduced in Europe, the United States and China, by introducing warnings or age restrictions on games or banning loot boxes altogether.
A recent UK survey of young people aged 11-16 found that 15% of boys and 7% of girls had gambled with their own money in the week prior to the survey.
“The British research is alarming, and Australian research is equally concerning,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood said the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and other government funded initiatives are already providing valuable information and education tools on gambling targeted at young people, parents and schools, but that more action is required.
“We want the Australian Government to consider children and young people as a specific target group within Australia’s gambling population,” Blackwood said.
“We have recommended to the Committee inquiry that an advisory group to the federal Minister for Social Services be established to monitor developments relating to risk of harm to children and young people from online gambling, including from simulated games and in-game gambling.”
Blackwood said an advisory group could be tasked with recommending national research projects, pinpointing new information of relevance to government-supported education programs and websites and suggesting amendments to existing legislation or other government regulatory measures such as industry use of product classifications and warnings.
“Australia must be prepared to use legislative and regulatory force to help protect young Australians from undue exposure to gambling in digital games and reduce their risk of developing harmful gambling behaviours,” she said.