Legislators say ‘loot boxes’ are subject to gambling laws

Lawmakers have been examining whether so-called loot boxes should be subject to the same rules as casinos.

Loot boxes in games can often be bought for real money in return for a random selection of items. They’re designed to be addictive, yet can feature in games available to people under the legal gambling age in many countries.

‘Designed to lure kids into spending money’

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation is an independent statutory authority regulating gambling and liquor industries in Australia. A reddit user, Caesar, contacted the VCGLR about their stance on loot boxes.

Jarrod Wolfe, Strategic Analyst for the Compliance Division at VCLGR, responded that loot boxes do constitute gambling in their view. However, legislation changes are required to provide freedom to investigate and prosecute.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

“What occurs with loot boxes does constitute gambling by the definition of the Victorian Legislation. Unfortunately, where the complexity arises is in jurisdiction and our powers to investigate. Legislation has not moved as quick as the technology; at both State and Federal level we are not necessarily equipped to determine the legality of these practices in lieu of the fact the entities responsible are overseas.”

In particular, Wolfe says he is focusing on ’predatory’ mechanics otherwise known as ’pay-to-win’ where some players have an advantage for spending money to receive things such as powerful weapons or characters. Cosmetic items, such as skins and hats, leave more choice to the consumer whether they wish to buy them.

In the States, a Hawaiian congressman called out Star Wars Battlefront 2 for its original loot box mechanics. They have since been scrapped due to a backlash from gamers but Democratic Rep. Chris Lee called the EA title a “Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money.”

Lee says his office is looking into legislation this year to prohibit the sale of games with these mechanics to people under the legal gambling age. Legislators in other states, he claims, share his concerns.

In Europe, the Belgium Gaming Commission ruled in-game loot boxes constitute gambling with a simple view that “mixing of money and addiction is gambling.”

Belgium Minister of Justice, Koen Geens, added, “Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child.” Geens wants to see them banned across Europe. “But that takes time,” he continued, “because we have to go to Europe. We will certainly try to ban it.”

If you are developing a game with loot box mechanics, at least ensure the age restriction accounts for local gambling laws. There is almost unanimous agreement on this issue and it won’t be long before sweeping legislations come down hard on anyone skirting it.

Do you think loot boxes constitute gambling? Let us know in the comments.

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