Loot boxes cost money, rely on chance and are frequently overused, which fits the definition of gambling under Oklahoma law.
The video game industry has quickly grown into one of the highest grossing entertainment industries ever, but legislation has lagged behind. One of the current major issues is whether digital loot boxes should be considered gambling.
Loot boxes are a digital chest one can purchase that holds a series of random virtual items. Each item has a certain chance of appearing, with items designated as rare being infrequent yet extraordinary. It is completely random chance what items one receives.
Loot boxes have been an issue for years in the gaming community because gamers feel that content which would have been previously free is now being locked away behind monetized barriers. There have also been similar fears that loot boxes containing in-game items may give players unfair advantages over their peers.
Loot boxes have recently been thrust into the forefront due to the enormous backlash concerning Electronic Arts’ video game “Star Wars Battlefront II.” Due to this, legislators such as Rep. Chris Lee of Hawaii and Sen. Kevin Ranker of Washington have been discussing the ramifications of the practice and its effects on video game’s normally young audience.
I believe that Oklahoma should follow in the footsteps of other states and acknowledge that loot boxes infringe on current gambling laws for the State of Oklahoma.
Understanding gambling laws in Oklahoma is important. The closest comparison between loot boxes and regular gambling is the slot machine. Both require a small amount of money for each pull and include a weighted but random chance of valuable winnings. Lesser-valued options have a higher probability of showing up while rarer options are less likely to appear.
According to Oklahoma Gambling Law, Statute 21-964, slot machines are defined as “any machine, instrument, mechanism or device that operates or may be played or operated mechanically, electrically, automatically or manually, and which can be played or operated by any person by paying to or depositing with any person, or by depositing with or into any cache, slot, or place a coin, chip, token, check, credit, money, representative of value or a thing of value, and by which play or operation such person will stand to win or lose, whether by skill or chance, or by both, a thing of value.”
This legal definition is broad in scope, and one can see how loot boxes fit into this definition. In video games, people purchase loot boxes through the use of physical money, or purchased digital currency. Upon receiving these loot boxes, one opens them and randomly receives items that can be used in game. It can be argued that as opposed to slot machines, one always receives a set of items in a loot box. However, in most loot box systems, some of the items received can be duplicates of previously-received items, and one only receives piddling rewards in the form of digital currency for them in place of a tangible item. While there is a difference here, it is extremely miniscule, and loot boxes should be still treated as slot machines under the law.
What’s more, the younger people who play these games are at a higher risk of developing gambling addictions due to the lack of complete brain development. In an article by the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine, adolescents are two- to four-times more likely to experience gambling problems than their older peers.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, the trade association for video games in the United States, 18 percent of male video game players in the United States are under the age of 18, the largest amount of male players. Conversely, 11 percent of female players are under the age of 18, the second largest.
This is a large number of people who should not be legally or mentally involved in gambling of any form. Oklahoma citizens are required to be 18 years or older to gamble in land-based and online casinos, poker rooms, dog/horse racing and online sports betting. 16-year-olds are allowed to gamble at bingo halls. However, these laws do not affect video games and similar virtual applications.
In a statement to website Kotaku, Sen. Ranker stated, “It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling in a game with dancing bunnies or something.”
Oklahoma lawmakers should also sit down with video game publishers to figure out the best way to regulate loot boxes and acknowledge the dangerous effects they can have on video games’ younger playerbase.