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Washington State Could Lead Charge Against Loot Boxes in Online Gaming

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.