Are loot boxes gambling? The UK doesn’t think so

Parliament vs. petitioners.

A UK pound and video game controller used to buy/play Loot Boxes

The UK Parliament has finally issued a response to a massive petition from concerned UK citizens to classify video game loot boxes (here classified as in-game purchases that allow players to randomly get a new, potentially rare in-game item) as a form of gambling. The petition itself outlined a plan to at the very least, force video game companies to show the odds of winning rare items on-screen, so players can see just how much of a financial risk they are taking when they purchase a loot box. However, the government’s response may not be quite the news that petitioners wanted to hear. In response to the 15,000 signature petition, the British Gambling Commission issued a statement through their government website saying that in-game loot boxes are not classified as gambling simply because they have no monetary value outside of the game. In essence, unless loot boxes can easily be exchanged for money or “money’s worth” within the confines of the game, they will not be considered as a gambling activity.

The Commission maintains that it is “carefully monitoring” the loot box situation in order to protect young children from the dangers of gambling. Naturally, this was not the response that petitioners wanted to hear. This compounded with the ESRB’s recent ruling that loot boxes are not considered gambling, suggests that currently, any major government/commission interference may be out of the question.

For the time being, it seems like loot boxes aren’t going anywhere; in fact, they may even be thriving. After popping up in new console games like Battlefront II and Shadows of Mordor, the calls to get rid of this game function have doubled. In many fans’ approximation, loot boxes are just another way for the game industry to pile on more fees to already expensive games. Though they aren’t necessary to complete a game in the same way that equally controversial paid downloadable content is, loot boxes do contribute to an environment in which players who choose not to pay beyond the set price of the game are at a severe disadvantage to those who choose to shell out hundreds of dollars for the best items and gear.

However, the strongest correlation to gambling is that the randomization of these boxes is eerily similar to the process by which slot machines make money. Essentially, a player puts in funds and is subjected to an entirely randomized system that encourages them to play again and again without substantial reward. However, unlike slot machines, loot boxes always give away some sort of prize, which (in the views of many governing bodies) means that the entire system mirrors a monetary transaction for a good rather than a gambling opportunity where the player stands to not gain anything for the cost of play. As such, it may be up to the petitioners to directly appeal to the video game companies seeing as they can’t depend on aid from a higher power.

[Comic Book Gaming]

Written by Mitchell Sturhann

Mitchell is a junior Screenwriting major at Chapman University who loves to read, write, or watch anything from either the screen or written page. He is lead editor for the school's honors journal, Sapere Aude, and is one of the founding members and writers of Chapman Sketch Comedy.

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