State Lawmaker Says ‘Loot Box As Gambling’ Bill Gaining Traction ‘All Around The Country’

Written By Dustin Gouker on December 8, 2017 - Last Updated on January 22, 2018

[toc]A state lawmaker from Hawaii said that legislation prohibiting the sale of video games with purchasable loot boxes to minors is starting to gain traction “across the country.”

US lawmakers eyeing loot boxes

Hawaii state Rep. Chris Lee talked about how his crusade against the practice of games selling loot boxes in a video posted this week. Lee is drafting legislation that would ban games with purchasable loot boxes unless the buyer is 21 or older.

“We’ve had to so many other legislators from other states reaching out over the last couple days,” Lee said in the video. “I think the traction this has been getting in the news…it has really been getting attention politically. So we want to be able to respond to those requests from states all around the country, and pass those legislators legal language that would give them a starting point to address this in their own states.”

Here’s the video:

The subject of loot boxes has been a hot topic for regulators and politicians around the world in the wake of their appearance in the game Star Wars Battlefront II.

Loot boxes, at a glance

Loot boxes are items included in some video games in which a random in-game item — oftentimes of varying usefulness or desirability within the game — can be acquired by players.

In the example of Star Wars Battlefront, loot boxes could originally be purchased via micro-transactions. (The game’s publisher, EA, turned off micro-transactions in the game after outside pressure.)

Why are loot boxes problematic? When loot boxes can be acquired with real money, and the contents are unknown, the mechanics of buying and opening a loot box start to look a lot like gambling. Since players don’t know what’s in the loot boxes — and the quality of the item inside can vary greatly — it can be argued that players are paying for a chance to win a prize.

Since video games are generally aimed at kids, it follows that the loot box/gambling mechanic is even more problematic.

Governmental interest in loot boxes

Right after attention came to loot boxes in Battlefront, a variety of countries have been looking into them, and whether they should be considered gambling.

Most notably, the UK Gambling Commission issued a warning about loot boxes just a few weeks ago. Lee’s efforts on the subject also ramped up in November, and to hear him, other states may start to follow suit.

Of course, it’s no shock that such an effort emanates from Hawaii, a jurisdiction where almost every form of legal gambling is prohibited. However, when the subject of minors and gambling comes up, it becomes a nearly universal talking point and policy issue that a vast majority of lawmakers can latch onto.

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What’s next for loot boxes?

It might not take a groundswell of laws going into effect on loot boxes to make game publishers rethink their tack with them.

The recent negative publicity from Battlefront alone might cause publishers to steer clear of micro-transactions associated with loot boxes. The risk of running afoul of any country’s gambling laws would seemingly not be worth the risk of keeping them in games in the future.

And if laws aimed at loot boxes go on the books even in a few states, publishers aren’t going to limit their potential audience just to keep loot boxes available for purchase.

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Dustin Gouker

Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. You can also find his work at Legal Sports Report.

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