The UK Gambling Commission has released a statement confirming it doesn’t count purchasing loot boxes in video games as a form of gambling.
The decision contradicts that of the Belgian Gaming Commission (BCG), which found that the video game feature recently included in the new Star Wars Battlefront II does count as gambling.
The UKGC Executive Director, Tim Miller, released a statement explaining that the regulator does not see loot boxes as gambling as you can’t exchange the items for real money, as per British law.
“A key factor in deciding if that line has been crossed is whether in-game items acquired ‘via a game of chance’ can be considered money or money’s worth,” Miller said in the statement.
“In practical terms, this means that where in-game items obtained via loot boxes are confined for use within the game and cannot be cashed out it is unlikely to be caught as a licensable gambling activity.
“In those cases, our legal powers would not allow us to step in.”
The UKGC released a position paper in 2016 identifying the potential risks associated with loot boxes. However, it refuses to classify loot boxes as gambling, even after a petition with 10,000 signatures, called “Adapt gambling laws to include gambling in video games which target children”, forced the UKGC to review its position last month.
The UKGC has stepped in when it comes to third parties specialising in skins gambling and prosecuted operators that allowed gamers to bet on virtual currencies using real-world value.
However, the statement suggests it may look into video game regulation in the future.
“Many parents are not interested in whether an activity meets a legal definition of ‘gambling’,” Miller said in the statement.
“Their main concern is whether there is a product out there that could present a risk to their children.
“We are concerned with the growth in examples where the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred.
“Where it does meet the definition of gambling it is our job to ensure that children are protected and we have lots of rules in place, like age verification requirements, to do that.”
Miller goes on to explain that parents still expect the regulator to put protections in place for products that do not meet the meaning of gambling.
“We have a long track record in keeping children safe and we are keen to share our experiences and expertise with others that have a similar responsibility,” Miller said.
“Whether gambling or not, we all have a responsibility to keep children and young people safe.”
Loot boxes aren’t exclusive to Battlefront II, with players eligible to earn loot boxes in Overwatch too. However, the Electronic Arts’ game has caused controversy since you can purchase the loot boxes with real money.
The BCG recently investigated and declared all in-game purchases in video games as harmful, and is seeking to ban loot boxes.
US lawmakers have taken the same stance, while Australian regulators have clashed, with Victoria siding with the BCG and Queensland siding with the UKGC.
EA released a statement explaining that loot boxes “are not gambling” as “the gamer makes the decision.”
Our opinion: How does the UKGC draw the line?
The UKGC’s stance is an interesting one. In recent weeks the regulator has been cracking down on online casino operators featuring cartoon graphics that could appeal to children.
These graphics reportedly attract children to the gambling sites. However, these sites have age verification tools preventing children from playing the games for real money. If they do happen upon the site, they can only play these games for play money.
Since the UKGC seems to define gambling as an activity which only takes place if players can cash out, it is somewhat confusing why it targeted licensed casino operators in that respect.
The UKGC needs to make a clear stance on what gambling means, especially when it has to do with children.