Could loot boxes be classed as gambling in 2020?

  • Updated
  • By Max Wright
Could loot boxes be considered gambling?

The UK Government has finally confirmed that there will be a call for evidence this year to determine whether loot boxes in video games should be considered a form of gambling and regulated as such.  

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport did not give a deadline, but have announced that they will be collecting the evidence and will publish its findings on the matter alongside a review of the gambling act, which was one Boris Johnson’s gambling related policies during his election campaign in 2019.

This new call for evidence follows the DDCMS’s report back in September 2019 that strongly suggested loot boxes in video games should be subject to regulation, though video game publishers still deny that they should be considered gambling companies.

If you’re not aware of what loot boxes are or why there are calls from the media, government groups and consumers to have them considered gambling, we’ve covered the loot box debate a few times on OnlineBingo. It really boils down to popular video games including a business model that encourages players to spend real money on loot boxes, which contain randomised digital rewards. 

These randomised rewards can be worthless (in terms of player-perceived value) or can be incredibly rare, sought after digital items. For example, FIFA football players open packets of digital cards featuring football players, with low value common players and rare, legendary players available in these packets. 

Players spend thousands looking to get that all-important Ronaldo card, when really there’s less than a 1% chance of finding him, much like the jackpot in a slot game.

It’s not just loot boxes that raise questions about how video games’ gambling-like qualities are regulated though. The biggest game in the world, Grand Theft Auto V, added an update in 2019 that opened a virtual casino in GTA Online for its tens of millions of online players. 

The depiction of gambling in products rated for players of a legal age is not the problem, however GTA online’s casino allows you to deposit real money and play with it just like you are in a real casino. This casino more closely resembles real gambling than any online casino site, but it is not regulated at all.

The UK Gambling Commission’s official stance has always been that if there is no official way to turn your prizes back into real cash, then there is no gambling taking place. However, this technicality has been exposing children to gambling for years and does nothing to protect vulnerable and problem gamblers from real harm.

The news is a huge step in the right direction as there is a lot of evidence out there for how loot boxes can cause harm, with Belgium having already banned the mechanic back in 2018. Could the UK follow suit this year? We’ll keep you updated!