Video game loot boxes under scrutiny by 16 gambling regulators

An international coalition is concerned about the influence some video games can have on children.

Abrar Al-Heeti Video producer / CNET
Abrar Al-Heeti is a video host and producer for CNET, with an interest in internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. Before joining the video team, she was a writer for CNET's culture team. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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Abrar Al-Heeti
2 min read
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Gambling regulators from 16 agencies signed an agreement Monday in an effort to tackle the "blurring of lines between gaming and gambling."

The international coalition, made up of European agencies and the Washington State Gambling Commission, said it's calling on the video game industry and tech platforms to help crack down on unlicensed third-party sites offering illegal gambling in video games

The coalition also said game providers have to make sure that features like loot boxes, which let players pay real money to purchase in-game items to artificially advance their power levels, aren't considered gambling under national laws.  

"We are increasingly concerned with the risks being posed by the blurring of lines between gambling and other forms of digital entertainment such as video gaming," a statement from the UK-based Gambling Commission said. "Concerns in this area have manifested themselves in controversies relating to skin betting, loot boxes, social casino gaming and the use of gambling themed content within video games available to children."

Others have also worked to combat the blurring of gaming and gambling. State Rep. Chris Lee, a Democrat from Hawaii, last year called Electronic ArtsStar Wars Battlefront II a "Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money." He said he worried these kinds of situations could lead to online gambling addiction, and also took issue with loot boxes.  

After launching an investigation into loot boxes earlier this year, Australia's Environment and Communications References Committee said on Monday that "loot boxes provide games companies with an unregulated way of exploiting gambling disorders amongst their customers." 

This kind of pushback could impact the decisions of video game makers. Pete Hines, Bethesda's vice president of PR and marketing, told Metro last week that Fallout 76 won't have any loot boxes.

Neil McArthur, chief executive of the UK-based Gambling Commission, said the agencies in the international coalition are calling on video game companies to address concerns about the risks that gambling and some games can have on children.  

"We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected," McArthur said.

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