Are there gambling risks in online games?

Are there gambling risks in online games

Online games are a form of entertainment. However, some online games incorporate gambling elements or even forms of gambling. Players need to be aware of these and their risks, so that they can exercise control and restrain.

Possible gambling elements or forms of gambling in online games

Risking something of value (e.g. money) to take a chance (e.g. loot boxes) at getting something of value (e.g. skins).

Loot Boxes

Loot Boxes are a feature in many online games involving a sealed mystery box that presents players with an opportunity to spend in-game or real-world currency in the hope of receiving something of higher value. Loot boxes are risky because of two primary features:

Lure of near misses: Some loot boxes often show players near misses or “What you could have gotten”, which entices them to try again and spend more in the hopes of better gain.1

Lure of easy wins: Some loot boxes lure players with winning good items at the beginning. However, winning such items become harder subsequently. Players may feel the need to carry on because they have already invested so much, and/or develop the misconception that their “losing streak” will end soon.

Games containing Loot Boxes can be highly addictive and, as with other addictions, it may disrupt their school, family and other areas of life.

Social Casinos

Social Casinos are online gambling-themed simulated games or even casino games such as jackpot, table games and bingo, on gaming websites, social networking platforms and mobile applications. These games do not require payment to play and do not provide any payouts or monetary prizes. However, they do expose young players to elements of gambling and encourage habits that can later develop into problem gambling.

Social casinos pose some risk because:

  • They are easily accessible to everyone as they are based on a "freemium" model, where players start off playing for free. However, this model encourages players to switch to a paid version later, for access to more features and a better gaming experience.
  • They encourage and normalise gambling behaviour, especially for impressionable adolescents. This is especially since the system uses dynamic game balancing, to artificially inflate the odds of success2

Studies have suggested that young people who play social casino games are more likely to participate in gambling and experience gambling problems.3 Studies have also shown that when players migrate from social casinos to online gambling, they tend to bet significantly more than players without this early exposure, due to the confidence they have gained from the relative ease of winning in social casinos.4

Fantasy Sports

Fantasy sports offer a form of proxy sports gambling as players bet on the performance of fantasy sports matches which are dependent on the actual on-the-field performance of real-life matches.

Fantasy sports can be risky because:

  • Fantasy sports matches can happen daily. Users place bets a lot more frequently and faster than traditional sports games which are seasonal. This also means it is easier for users to get addicted to betting on these games.
  • Its vague classification between being a game of chance and a game of skills makes it difficult to be defined as a form of gambling. However, chance remains a predominant factor as it has been argued that the skill involved in forming a team is similar to the skill involved in selecting a winner in traditional sports gambling activities.5

Skin Betting

Skin betting is the use of skins (i.e. cosmetic items like a character's costume) as a form of virtual currency to wager on Esports platforms or used to gamble on casino-type games. Skins can have real-world value within some digital marketplace that allows users to buy and sell in-game items (e.g. Steam marketplace). This makes skin betting similar to betting with actual money. As with any form of gambling, there is a risk of developing an addiction. The additional risk may not be apparent that skin betting is in fact gambling.

Esports Betting

Esports betting is illegal in Singapore. It involves the practice of placing wagers on the outcomes of multiplayer videogame competitions with hope of having a chance to win something of greater value. As with any form of gambling, there is a risk of developing an addiction.

While some games clearly incorporate forms of gambling, others may contain gambling elements that are not as obvious. It is important to be aware of the risks so that we can exercise control and restraint.


  1. Sandqvist, A. (2021). Correlations and Similarities between Loot Boxes and Gambling. [Bachelor’s thesis, Malmö University]. DiVA Portal.
  2. Veselka, L., Wijesingha, R., Leatherdale, S., Turner, N., & Elton-Marshall, T. (2018). Factors associated with social casino gaming among adolescents across game types. BMC Public Health, 18(1). doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-6069-2
  3. Gainsbury, S., Russell, A., King, D., Delfabbro, P., & Hing, N. (2016). Migration from social casino games to gambling: Motivations and characteristics of gamers who gamble. Computers In Human Behavior63, 59-67. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.05.021
  4. King, D (2018). Online gaming and gambling in children and adolescents – Normalising gambling in cyber places. Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.
  5. Nitti, T. (2020, October 19). In Recent Ruling, IRS Again Concludes That Daily Fantasy Sports Are Gambling. Retrieved 2022, from