While gambling is illegal in the U.S., children can begin gambling as early as 10, and 80% of adolescents reported gambling in the past year. If your child plays video games, they may be gambling without realizing it. Do you know how to identify gambling behavior and what you can do if you suspect there is a problem?
Video games used to be one-time purchases. Today, games act more as a service, with companies often providing them for free and relying upon “loot boxes” and microtransactions like in-app purchases to create revenue streams. According to a Federal Trade Commission report, loot boxes have been a topic of concern both nationally and internationally over concerns that they encourage gambling-like behavior or use concerning tactics that can encourage addictive consumer spending, even in games targeting young children.
Loot boxes are typically an in-game container that masks the contents- which are random. Players spend real currency or in-game currency to receive one of these random items, which can make the player more powerful, competitive, or appealing. The concept became mainstream in 2010 when introduced into popular games like Team Fortress 2, and then Overwatch and Call of Duty:WW2. In fact, some popular games, like Star Wars Battlefront II incorporated them to such an extent that it was accused of being “pay to win,” prompting a significant backlash that led to the publisher, Electronic Arts, to revise the game. Yet the formula remains common, with popular franchises such as Candy Crush, Diablo, Final Fantasy releasing games that rely heavily on microtransactions and loot boxes to succeed.
Loot Boxes Generate Huge Profits For The Video Game Industry
Recent research suggests that the video gaming industry generated up to $30 billion from loot boxes in 2018. Major games studios like Ubisoft and Take-Two Interactive rely on these tactics for a majority of their corporate revenue. Yet these studios’ revenue may be disproportionately impacting a small number of gamers- over 90% of this revenue is generated from a small number of gamers who are called “whales.” These “whales,” or gamers who spend disproportionate amounts on in-game purchases, may be already exhibiting concerning gambling behavior, even if they are under-age.
Loot Boxes Simulate Gambling Behavior
According to addictions researchers, loot boxes create dynamics similar to gambling behavior. In a recent survey of adolescents by these Central Queensland University researchers, they found that a majority of the best-selling video games had loot boxes, that almost all adolescents aged 12-17 or 18-24 had played a game with loot boxes, and that the average 12- to 17-year-old spent on average $50 per month on loot boxes. The average 18- to 24-year-old spent on average $72 per month on loot boxes.Importantly, this same research showed that loot box purchases significantly increased the odds of problem gambling later.
Analyses of motivations for gamers to purchase loot boxes mirror common reasons for gambling: gamers are exchanging money or something of value in an attempt to influence a future event, the outcome of that future event is not known at the time of the transaction, and chance at least partly determines the outcome. When games are designed to maximize spending as a perceived path to victory within the game, gamers may feel forced to engage in gambling behavior in order to progress.
Loot Box Spending May Lead To Problem Gambling
Emerging research suggests that loot box purchases and similar gambling behavior among children or teens can lead to problem gambling later in life. These activities seem fun and harmless, potentially normalizing risky behavior. Given that many games targeting children (such as Pokemon franchise games) contain these mechanics, parents must be aware of this potential concern and monitor spending in games, ideally requiring parental permission to make any purchases, talking to your children about how gambling works, and watching for problem gambling behavior such as changes in money, changes in behavior and irritability when away from gaming, secrecy, and changes in school performance or social activities. If you are concerned your child has a problem, there are many addiction resources online, including helplines from SAMHSA , the National Council on Problem Gambling , and state helplines.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, seven out of the past eight years have seen the highest number of no confidence votes ever recorded, and many leaders have resigned or been pushed out without formal votes of no confidence. While it is difficult to quantify the scope of the current churn in leadership ranks, the American Council on Education noted that the average presidential tenure has decreased 23.5% since 2006, from 8.5 years to 6.5 years in 2017, and there is good reason to believe the average tenure will decrease significantly again when the 2023 data are released. For provosts, turnover is quicker and more widespread, with one study estimating that 50% of provosts had turned over in the past 36 months, followed closely by deans (42–44% turnover) and leaders in advancement, enrollment management/admissions, financial/business, and student life/student affairs (37%-41%). There is little data on other leaders, including department heads/chairs, associate and assistant deans/provosts, AVPs, and so forth, but one could expect similar patterns for these challenging positions.
There is much to be upset about in the higher education world these days. Yet institutional leadership matters a great deal, and having the right leader is crucial in these challenging times. Fresh perspectives and new leadership are often warranted and desirable, yet frequent turnover in key leadership positions might incur serious institutional costs. Institutions and their stakeholder groups must have a range of responses to disappointment or frustration, and laying all of the institution’s ills at the feet of the president (or provost, or dean, or board of trustees) is likely overly simplistic and potentially damaging. When undesirable events or situations develop, I would suggest that a range of responses be considered. These could include replacing the leader, but it could also include investing in leadership development or development for the leadership team. If one were to view institutional leaders as a resource rather than “the enemy,” then institutions might engage in rich and thoughtful conversations about the type of leadership the institution needs, and whether the potential benefits of seeking a change in leaders might outweigh the likely costs.
Below is a list of some factors that campus stakeholders might want to consider when faced with frustrating or troubling events:
2. Does the leader share my interests and concerns? In general, I suggest that your leaders and you have a shared interest- a thriving, vibrant, and successful institution. While there is often talk of the “corporatization of higher education,” only about 15% of presidents come from outside the academy, and even in these cases, a leader’s personal self interest is often closely aligned with the broad, long-term interests of the faculty, staff, and students. Non-profit colleges and universities have no incentive to slash budgets or cut lines unless it is really necessary. No leader wants to be the one taking adverse actions, so if your institution is facing this situation (as many are right now), I would recommend asking why your president, provost, or dean is recommending cuts, really looking at long term trends in net revenue and expenses, and being open to the fact that the long-term health of the institution might require some short-term budget cuts or reallocations. Consider the likely outcomes if the cuts are not made- there are many examples of institutions who refused to accept reality until it dramatic action was necessary, often resulting in much broader, long-term damage to reputation and mission.
3. Are we looking at frequent leader turnover, and can that cause reputational damage? While I was a faculty member early in my career, a very good institution went through provosts about every 18 months. This means that there was no stable academic leadership, direction, strategy, or progress for many years at a time, and yet we were investing significant financial resources and faculty and staff energy in national search after national search. What we didn’t talk about was whether repeated turnover in leadership can cause reputational harm to the institution which may adversely impact the ability to recruit future leaders. Potential candidates watch trends, researching you as closely as you research them, and the strongest candidates may be reluctant to consider a position at an institution that could derail or damage their career or reputation, or lead to a short tenure. I recommend thinking about how your future as a member of an institution is aligned with the reputation of the institution, and how fragile that reputation can be. It is in your interest to ensure your institution is seen as a great place to work for everyone- including those who serve as your leaders.
4. Are we providing effective support and leadership development to ensure the institution is benefitting from this significant investment? Consider that even a seasoned leader — internal or external- will need time to learn a new position, which may slow down or derail important initiatives and progress on strategic priorities. If it takes six to nine months to search for a senior leader once there is a vacancy, and it takes the new leader another six to nine months to really get their legs under them. That means your institution could lose up to 18 months of effective leadership- where nationally, provosts are averaging only about three years tenure, for example. That is an exceptional cost to an institution in the fast-moving and increasingly uncertain times we face in higher education, and might argue that institutions invest in supporting and retaining leaders rather than replacing them every few years.
5. Who takes over if a leader steps down? These are typically mission-critical positions that must be filled, so when a vacancy occurs, you often see a series of interim appointments, placing burdens on those who already had a mission-critical, full-time job. Then others have to assume their vacated roles (or worse, they have to fulfill both roles), and so on. Interim positions can provide opportunities for deserving leaders to shine, but also leaves many within your institution on the steep part of the learning curve simultaneously and often, abruptly, and temporarily, meaning they may be limited in how extensively they can steer the strategic direction of the institution. These cascading effects on an institution may disrupt key initiatives.
6. How much does it cost to replace senior leaders? When leader steps down, the institution risks losing institutional knowledge and momentum toward strategic priorities- these can be serious costs in themselves. There are also substantial monetary costs of a search, which also requires valuable time from faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders that could otherwise be spent on other priorities. That former leader may return to the faculty, typically after a sabbatical, and often at a higher than typical salary for an indefinite period of time. Startup costs to ramp up a research lab or get ready for the classroom may be added in as well. Moving and relocation costs are not insignificant if a new hire is coming from out of town. All of this is a great investment when new leadership is truly needed and an waste of time and resources if it is happening too frequently as the sole remedy for discontent on campus.
7. How long will it take the new leader to develop the significant relationships that are required to run an institution? Relationships matter in higher education and it takes lots of time and energy for leaders to create and nurture valuable external relationships with alumni, corporate leaders, donors, and government partners. It takes just as long to build the internal relationships that are required to run a complicated institution. There are few institutions that can gladly forego years of donations and support from advancement, but replacing key leaders (deans, provost, president, VP for advancement, etc.) may adversely impact fundraising, which reduces potential support for faculty, students, and academic priorities. One must ask, for example, whether a vote of no confidence is worth the potential loss of support the institution would otherwise gain in retaining and supporting that individual.
8. Will a new leader amplify existing strategic goals and efforts or want to bring entirely new priorities and agendas? There are times when an institution needs some new perspectives and energy, but executing real change in higher education can take many years to complete. Frequent turnover can lead to an environment of constant whipsawing between ambitious agendas and managing the interim periods, then adjusting to new vision and goals, then managing interim periods, and so on. This can be disheartening to stakeholders who put valuable time into the prior strategic plan, and can leave an institution stagnating when others are driving forward. Once lost, competitive advantage is difficult to regain.
Turnover in leadership can be valuable or necessary to move an institution forward. In the often heated discussions of campus discontent, it might be worthwhile to ask what might be lost if leaders are removed. Campus stakeholders must consider the many costs of turnover to evaluate whether it is needed and likely to be a net benefit. Remembering that most leaders in academia are coming from the faculty, having sat where you now sit, and often having had no formal leadership training, might it be worth asking whether the leader has strengths and opportunities for growth, and it might be beneficial for students, faculty, staff, and the institution as a whole to support the current human in the role, who is likely working very hard every day to support you and the best interests of the institution.
Dr. Jason W Osborne served as Miami University Provost from 2019–2022. With an extensive career in higher education (HE) leadership, he discusses the best approaches to positioning the institution for long-term success, putting faculty members and student interest as the primary focus in his boldly creative proposals and new degree programs.
Jason Osborne has recently served as Dean of the Graduate School at Clemson University and as Miami University’s Provost. Based on his experience, he talks about how higher education leaders and professional education can bring a significant improvement on yield enrollment through student body academic motivation and implementing a transformative strategic plan that helps students engage with their curriculum, following an article he co-authored with Inside Higher Ed on Focus on Mission to Yield Enrollment.
Initiatives discussed in this article include efforts to amplify student success, improve the appeal of degree programs, make transfer “frictionless,” outreach to potential degree completers, ensuring an inclusive and welcoming campus, and others.
Q: What are the key challenges facing HE institutions in the US?
Firstly, thank you, Deepak, for interviewing me. Much appreciated, and I hope this is useful for you.
Higher education in the US in 2023 faces challenges that reflect global pressures and internal stressors.
While working as Provost and in other HE leadership positions, I’ve seen the speed at which challenges have been coming for educational institutions in the US. Some, like the COVID-19 pandemic, were utterly unpredictable. Others, like the “demographic cliff” and reduced public funding for higher education, have been ongoing for decades. Yet it seems as though the rate of change has increased exponentially over the last decade or so, particularly since the pandemic hit.
Higher education faces many simultaneous, serious challenges. Yet as my colleague Brent Shock and I discuss in our recent Inside Higher Ed article, none of them are insurmountable if institutions are strategic and focus on their core mission and values. Let’s talk about a few that have been top of mind recently.
While people have been betting on March Madness for years, one difference now is that betting on college sports is legal in many states. This is largely due to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for each state to decide whether to permit people to gamble on sporting events. Prior to the ruling, legal sports betting was only allowed in Nevada.
The anticipated growth in sports gambling is quite sizable. Analysts estimate the market in the U.S. may reach over US$167 billion by 2029.
Gambling makes inroads into colleges
Concerns over college athletes being targeted by upset gamblers are not new. Players and sports organizations have expressed worry that expanded gambling could lead to harassment and compromise their safety. Such concerns led the nation’s major sports organizations – MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL and NCAA – to sue New Jersey in 2012 over a plan to initiate legal sports betting in that state. They argued that sports betting would make the public think that games were being thrown. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that it was up to states to decide if they wanted to permit legal gambling.
Athletic conferences are also cashing in on the data related to these games and events. For instance, the Mid-Atlantic Conference signed a lucrative five-year deal in 2022 to provide real-time statistical event data to gambling companies, which then leverage the data to create real-time wager opportunities during sporting events.
As sports betting comes to colleges and universities, it means the schools will inevitably have to deal with some of the negative aspects of gambling. This potentially includes more than just gambling addiction. It could also involve the potential for student-athletes and coaches to become targets of threats, intimidation or bribes to influence the outcome of events.
Colleges and universities don’t have to sit idly by as gambling grows.
Two faculty fellows at Miami University’s Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sport – former Ohio State Senator William Coley and Sharon Custer – recommend that regulators and policymakers work with colleges and universities to reduce the potential harm from the growth in legal gaming. Specifically, they recommend that each state regulatory authority:
Develop plans to coordinate between different governmental agencies to ensure that individuals found guilty of violations are sanctioned in other jurisdictions.
Dedicate some of the revenue from gaming to develop educational materials and support services for athletes and those around them.
Create anonymous tip lines to report threats, intimidation or influence, and fund an independent entity to respond to these reports.
Assess and protect athlete privacy. For instance, schools might decline to publish contact information for student-athletes and coaches in public directories.
Train athletes and those around them on basic privacy management. For instance, schools might advise athletes to not post on public social media outlets, especially if the post gives away their physical location.
The NCAA or athletic conferences could lead the development of resources, policies and sanctions that serve to educate, protect and support student-athletes and others around them who work at the schools for which they play. This will require significant investment to be comprehensive and effective.
Dr. McMurray, a Faculty Fellow with our Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sport was recently interviewed for CBS-12 on the topic of addiction and how his lab is providing hope for a treatment for addictions of all types.
In this recent interview, Jason uses his experience as Provost of Miami University, Dean of the Graduate School at Clemson, and as Department Chair at the University of Louisville (in addition to serving as a faculty member at many research universities) to discuss how leadership within institutions can help faculty avoid burnout or recover from burnout. These tips also could help with retention of valuable faculty.