Midlothian MP, Owen Thompson, has called for stronger action to protect families from getting into financial trouble through spend on online games during the coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Thompson has tabled written parliamentary questions on online gaming and gambling and has written to Google and Apple raising concerns about excessive use of in-app purchasing models in games run from their platforms. Mr Thompson called for measures such as limits to spend being set and age appropriate marketing for games which contain gambling-like activities.

He is a long-term campaigner for improvements to consumer protections for online gaming, and previously led a parliamentary debate on the issue.

Mr Thompson said:-“We already know online gambling addiction is a greater threat while people struggle to cope with the lockdown, but there is a real risk that families may find themselves with hefty bills through online gaming too.

Owen Thompson MP

“I welcome today’s news from the Betting and Gaming Council that radio and TV gambling adverts from their members are being removed during these unprecedented times, but this doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t include ads on social media and targeted marketing which seem to have mushroomed since the crisis began.

“It’s a particular worry for children and young people who are a strong market for online games that contain in-app purchases. Items they can buy like ‘loot boxes’ aren’t regulated in the way gambling games are, and yet encourage the same gambling-like behaviour.

“Once people are hooked they may well pay a little to keep on playing or enhance the game, particularly younger players and those more vulnerable to addictive behaviour. While each small transaction won’t break the bank they can build up when more time is being spent stuck at home.

“We need tougher rules, and tougher enforcement of existing rules, to tackle this risk and prevent families who may already face financial trouble from getting into debt. Legislation is always playing catch-up and the main platforms like Google and Apple have to take their share of responsibility in keeping people safe too.”