CHARLESTON, W.Va. — What exactly are your kids doing and spending while playing games on any new consoles, tablets or other devices?

The Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia is out with a warning about in-game purchase options including so-called “loot boxes” and other “pay to win” features.

Sheila Moran, network communications director, said such microtransactions are games of chance which are paid for with real money even in games that cost nothing up front and come with no guarantee of sought items or level advancements.

“Let’s say you want to skip to the next level of a game, this box will appear and say, ‘I’m going to give you three chances, you can pay $5 and you may or may not get the next level’ or ‘You can pay $2 and you may or may not get this certain color of outfit for your character,'” Moran explained.

“It’s set up very much in an intermittent reward system just like slot machines.”

Under existing law, such “loot boxes” or similar offerings are not considered gambling technically, but Moran said that’s in the process of changing amid an international outcry about alleged “predatory” practices via games.

Lawmakers across the U.S. and in several other countries are currently reviewing legality.

“Just recently, Apple has come out requiring developers to publish the odds of winning in these ‘loot boxes,’ so it sounds an awful lot like gambling and these are games that are aimed at children,” Moran told MetroNews.

“Kids are getting the idea that they can spend a little bit of money and they may or may not get what they want.”

The Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia operates West Virginia’s 1-800-GAMBLER program. About 95 percent of calls to the helpline are from people playing and addicted to electronic games in various forms, according to Moran.

“So there is concern the next generation is really being groomed for that sort of gambling addiction,” she said.

Moran said some of the most popular video games with “pay to win” features include Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch and Star Wars: Battlefront II, but she said such features are widely available via console, computer, tablet or phone games.

With many kids off school and in possession of new devices and games after the Christmas holiday, Moran was advising parents to monitor both time and money spent while on electronics.

“They need to watch what their kids are playing, watch their credit card statements and talk to their kids about some of these purchases,” she said.

“When they say, ‘I’m playing a game, but it’s free,’ is it really free? If you’re spending money, what are you getting for that money?”

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