Debate over loot boxes spreads to Australia as MP introduces bill

  • Updated
  • By Max Jenner
Australian politician introducing a bill to get loot boxes banned OB_.jpg
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An Australian federal politician is due to introduce a bill aimed at making loot boxes inaccessible to minors.

The bill, proposed by independent MP Andrew Wilkie, would aim to restrict children’s access to games featuring loot boxes by making it mandatory for them to carry an 18+ age rating. In Wilkie’s view, ‘[to] allow children to pay cash for a randomised event that may or may not reward them that would meet any definition of gambling.’ The inclusion of loot boxes on games, he says, sets children up to be groomed 'for future gambling.'

Two reports commissioned by the Australian government in 2018 recommended the introduction of a system to ban the access of minors to loot boxes, but no developments appear to have followed on from these.

Despite loot boxes’ ambiguous status, enough evidence seems to have accumulated now to suggest that they do indeed function exactly like online gambling sites — and the fact that they remain unregulated in so many countries is a source of great potential danger. Since it is impossible to know the prize until it has been bought, it is incredibly easy for young gamers to lose vast sums of money trying to obtain the special feature that they are after, much as problem gamblers are known to ‘chase’ prizes if they find themselves on a losing streak.

2021 has seen a number of developments regarding the legality and regulation of games with loot boxes worldwide. The German Bundestag approved a law making them illegal for under-18s in March before seemingly backtracking the next day by altering the text of the legislation. In the same month, a Brazilian children’s association filed a series of lawsuits against gaming companies in an attempt to get loot boxes banned.

In the UK, it looks likely that regulation regarding loot boxes will come into force later this year as part of the government’s continuing review into the Gambling Act 2005 and particularly following an academic study in April that strongly suggested a psychological link between gambling and loot boxes.

Wilkie’s bill isn’t the first example of an high-profile attempt to regulate gaming and gambling in Australia. Former senator Nick Xenophon became well-known for his crusade against publicly available slot machines (known as poker machines or ‘pokies’ in Australia). His ‘No Pokies’ movement eventually developed into a fully-fledged political party which now has representation both at state level in South Australia and in the federal Senate. Nonetheless, Xenophon ultimately failed in his attempt to get the machines banned in any substantial way.

Given the renewed recent debate about loot boxes and the centrality of child safety to the issue, Wilkie’s bill might stand more of a chance of garnering support among politicians and the public than the No Pokies campaign. It will be introduced to the House of Representatives next month.