Gambling is a speculative activity where real money is exchanged in physical and online casinos or betting venues. Gaming on the other hand is a fun activity to be indulged in, without any exchange of money. Until now, the word ‘gaming’ was more associated with video games, which were played purely for entertainment. However, the distinction has, deliberately or otherwise, been blurred in the online world with games that now entice people to spend money for in-game benefits.
So what is the actual difference?
Conventionally speaking, gaming and gambling involve different motivation for players. Gamblers play for the thrill of taking risks, or to capitalize on their playing skills, but the overall motive is to win money, where real money games become more valuable than their free counterparts. However, gamers play just for fun or to socialize on networking sites and apps. Players are encouraged to interact with friends and other players through community features. Players can engage through live chat and send virtual gifts or transferring game benefits like dice throws.
Players are attracted to these features by their love of social media, and the casino-style games, which they can play without risking any money and being categorized as gamblers. This includes the new style sports betting apps like KamaGames, which allows users to ‘wager’ on their favorite sports fixtures with virtual chips they have already been awarded through social features of the app. Again, this gives players the thrill involved in sports betting for free while enabling them to interact with other ‘bettors’.
Gambling Called Gaming
We have seen the advent of social casinos and video games where players are offered in-game benefits for real money. There are many avenues apart from social casinos, online betting venues and sports betting sites where players can experience the rush of gambling without it being called so. This has spawned concerns that impressionable youngsters may be subtly introduced to these gambling techniques and may subsequently cross the line to gamble for real money.
Many games have loot boxes that contain random selections of games enhancing features like cosmetics and in-game tools that players can use to advance faster in the games. Though they can be acquired through bonuses, they are also sold for big amounts of money. What is incendiary is that there is no assurance that players will receive a high-quality or the rare item they paid for. This amounts to essentially a conventional gamble.
This scenario has raised several ethical questions about youngsters spending real money for virtual rewards with many critics saying that gaming companies take advantage of social players. Even though the loot box concept is not available in social casino games at this time, there are no guarantees that similar products will not be introduced in future since the possibility of spending real money already exists. For any speculation to be considered gambling it must have three elements: Prize, chance, and commodity value.
Drawing the Line
Several countries, particularly in Europe are now tightening laws to regulate the phenomena of social gaming. The Dutch Gaming Authority made headlines in 2018 when it ruled that purchase of loot boxes found in popular games like PUBG, FIFA 18, and Dota 2 could be categorized as gambling and outlawed loot boxes. In the same year, Belgium followed suit by declaring that many games that contained loot boxes were games of chance, which constituted gambling.
In early 2019, the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee of the United Kingdom recommended that Parliament regulate loot boxes as features of gambling. The committee’s report highlighted the negative stance taken by games developers when it came to define the parameters of normal and excessive game play in their fixtures. The report also mentioned the reluctance on the part of gaming companies to share details of player behaviors.
The committee also concluded that loot boxes were inherently designed to exploit psychological elements associated with the development of behaviors similar to gambling. The report formally recommends that loot boxes, which contain speculative elements, should be only be provided via in-game credits or bonuses. The report ends with the recommendation that the government of U.K. enact regulation to bring loot boxes under the gamut of gambling, a move, which could further blur the distinction between gaming and gambling.
Entertainment Vs Profits
Gaming is also a polite term for real gambling since both involve playing games, but in reality, the only true distinction between the two terms is that the former constitutes pure entertainment while the latter involves winning and losing real money. Though ‘products’ like loot boxes and other game enhancing features are sold for real money, players know they are not getting anything in return except entertainment. Only those loot boxes are targeted for a gambling tag, which leave players uncertain about getting their money’s worth.
Worth noting here is that social casinos and the online gambling industries are separately subject to various studies by experts, but there is no evidence of a definite link between gaming and gambling. Social casinos use various marketing devices and attractions for players to cross-over from fun gaming to actual gambling, but the conversion rates must be very frustrating. The online world has added several connotations to the word ‘gaming’; both the terms are also used interchangeably, and it is left to the watchdogs and regulators to weed through the pack and call a spade a spade.