Washington State Could Lead Charge Against Loot Boxes in Online Gaming

Washington State Could Lead Charge Against Loot Boxes in Online Gaming
(AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Washington state Sen. Kevin Ranker (D) introduced legislation in January that seeks an answer to this question: If they look, sound, and seem like gambling, are online-game loot boxes really gambling?


And more importantly, do these loot boxes, sometimes known as “loot crates,” which demand real money from game players for a chance to win in-game items, prey upon unsuspecting children?

Loot boxes or crates are virtual items in online games that a player can redeem to receive more virtual items for his avatar or character. It’s a way for online and mobile gaming companies to make money. The players can purchase the boxes outright, with cash, or buy keys to open the boxes.

China, Japan and Australia already regulate loot boxes.

PC Gamer reported Sweden’s Minister for Public Administration Ardalan Shekarabi said his country might classify loot boxes as gambling next year.

“It is obvious that there are many people suffering from gambling addiction, who also get stuck in this type of gambling and lose money because of it,” Shekarabi said.

“What the bill says is, ‘Industry, state: sit down to figure out the best way to regulate this,’” Ranker told the Tacoma News Tribune. “It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something.”

“If parents realized how predatory these games are,” Ranker said, “they wouldn’t want them under their Christmas tree.”


Hawaii state Rep. Chris Lee’s legislation doesn’t seek to answer the question of whether loot boxes are gambling. To the Democrat’s mind, there is no doubt that they are nothing more than online casinos that should be kept out of the hands of children.

Lee also wants a warning on games that have “gambling-based mechanics” and to state the odds of winning what’s in the loot boxes.

Lee said he fell victim to online game when he download the game Clash of Clans a couple of years ago.

“At one point,” Lee told Kotaku, “I started buying crystals. I ended up spending a few hundred dollars over the course of a few months.”

When he realized what he had done, Lee deleted the game from his phone and “there was no value left – it’s just money that’s gone.”

Lee said he wasn’t alone in falling into the trap offered by loot boxes and crates. Teachers in his district told Lee plenty of stories about families who had to pay their kids’ gambling bills.

Lee also said adults, as well as children, need to be protected from “predatory practices in online gaming and the significant financial consequences it has been having on families around this nation.”

“I think this is an appropriate time to make sure these issues are addressed before this becomes the new norm for every game,” Lee said.


Fellow Democratic State Rep. Sean Quinlan said during a press conference in support of Lee’s legislation, “We didn’t allow Joe Camel to encourage your kids to smoke cigarettes and we shouldn’t allow Star Wars to encourage our kids to gamble.”

Polygon reported that game players began pushing back against loot crates and boxes last year, as did reviewers of the games.

“When you run out of in-game money, you have two choices: Make a huge time investment by hunting down orcs in your game world and earning chests via vendetta missions, or spend some real money to get the more powerful orcs you need now. Does the game ever force you to spend money?” read a Polygon review of the game Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. “No. I’m sure you can get to the end of Shadow Wars without spending a dime, as long as you’re patient and persistent.”

“But locking progress through this mode (and, again, toward the game’s secondary ending) behind either spending more money or doing tons of tedious busywork feels at least greedy if not predatory,” the review concluded.

However, the Entertainment Software Rating Board told the Tacoma News Tribune it does not consider loot boxes to be gambling.

“While the digital goods within a box or pack are mostly randomized, the player is always gauranteed {sic} to receive in-game content,” an ESRB spokesperson said in an email.


Christopher Hansford, the political engagement director of a new lobbying group that is all about creating an awareness of online gambling, Consumers for Digital Fairness, disagrees.

“We’re a group of folks who are sick and tired of seeing people and a medium we love exploited by unfair practices,” Hansford told Polygon. “So we decided to put our skills and experience to work to tackle this issue.”

A CDF statement on the group’s website claimed that loot boxes or crates usually contain nothing but “worthless trash.”

“These practices involving real-money inputs and games of chance simply doesn’t belong in video games,” the statement read in part. “These loot boxes would be more at home in casinos and other licensed gaming establishments with adults, not our living rooms in the hands of our children.”

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