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Proposed gambling reforms take aim at video games

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon plans to introduce a bill that would change gambling laws to include video games, saying "insidious" games like Counter Strike are "morphing into full-on gambling."

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.


South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon is calling for a change to Australian gambling laws to include video games, saying that some first person shooters such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive are "morphing into full-on gambling."

Xenophon argues that Australia's laws are out of touch when it comes to video games, and that children are ultimately suffering, with gambling-like behaviour going unregulated in online gaming communities.

A first person shooter like Counter Strike might seem an unlikely target for gambling reform, but it all comes down to the special skins that can be purchased within the game. Players pay a set fee to unlock random cosmetic items in-game, which can be worth a great deal depending on how rare they are. These skins are traded on Counter Strike gambling websites, and even used as a form of currency for gambling on other e-sports games.

It's this kind of secondary market growing out of seemingly ordinary video games that Xenophon seems to have his eyes on.

Speaking to Fairfax Media, Xenophon described these games as "insidious" and "incredibly misleading and deceptive" in their tacit promotion of gambling.

Mobile games that mimic gambling on slot machines are popular on the App Store.

Seamus Byrne/CNET

"This is the Wild West of online gambling that is actually targeting kids," said Senator Xenophon. "Instead of shooting avatars, parents soon find out that [their children] have shot huge holes through their bank accounts."

While The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Senator Xenophon will introduce a bill to Parliament when it resumes this month, it is unclear what the legislation will cover and how it will seek to amend Australia's Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

Fairfax reports that Xenophon name-checked Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, saying that he would seek to change the laws to include "these sorts of games." But with two of the top five slots on the app store currently held by Casino slot games, the bill could well sweep mobile games and in-app purchases into its scope.

Xenophon has posted a number of news stories about his announcement on his website, but provided no further detail around the proposed laws.

It's not the first time the link between gaming and gambling has been drawn in Australia.

In 2013, Xenophon's home state of South Australia unveiled an anti-gaming advertising campaign in a bid to put MA15+ ratings on games with simulated gambling.

The awareness campaign was billed under the slogan "Gambling starts with games" and showed a young girl playing card shark at a poker table, holding an iPad with casino chips stacked up beside her.

The ads were later pulled after push back from the gaming community, including the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, which described the ads as "over the top."