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Loot boxes earn scorn of gaming regulators

The addition of “loot boxes” in video games has recently captured the attention of gaming regulators, who are increasingly viewing the new offering as an illegal form of gambling.

The push for a ban on loot boxes after a video gamer uproar over Electronic Arts’ new Star Wars Battlefront 2 title, which offers a “pay-to-win” loot box system - a mechanism that would essentially reward paying players over non-money grind players.

While the items inside the loot boxes are typically only virtual items, such as skins, new weapons or playable characters, the existence of virtual item marketplaces means that there is a potential for these items to be sold or exchanged for real money.

Last week, the Belgian Gaming Commission said it was considering classifying games with loot boxes as gambling.

According to Belgian news site VTM News, Koen Geens, Belgium’s Minister of Justice stated that “mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child.”

Geens said he wanted loot boxes banned not only in Belgium, but in Europe and abroad, adding that his government “will certain try to ban it.”

Australia’s Victorian gaming regulator also had something to say about loot boxes, according to a report from the Brisbane Times. However, it noted there were difficulties in investigating and prosecuting offenders.

“...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,” wrote Jarrod Wolfe, a strategic analyst in the Victorian regulators' compliance division in a response to a student's enquiry. 

“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,” he said.

The Queensland gaming regulator, OLGR however, had a slightly different view.

Speaking to Kotaku, Robert Grimmond of the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation in Queensland said that ‘loot boxes’ would not fall within the meaning of a gaming machine defined under the Gaming Machine Act, and thus, would not constitute as gambling.

“As such, the OLGR would have no legislative authority to regulate or ban these products,” he said.

Grimmond recommended speaking to the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA), which has powers to oversee and ban certain "interactive gambling services" advertised or provided in Australia.

It is yet to be determined how gaming, or interactive media regulators in other jurisdictions would view loot boxes in video games moving forward.

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