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Gambling and online games in 2020

You might think that playing online games has nothing to do with gambling. However, there are a growing number of players and experts who are vehemently arguing the opposite. The main focus of this growing discussion centres around consumer items falling under the broad label of ‘loot boxes’.

Critics argue that there is no difference between buying loot box-style items and logging into a plush online casino. Several countries have already made the step of legally labelling them gambling. In other countries, for now, it’s still a grey area, a hotly debated one at that.

What are loot boxes?

Loot boxes and their counterparts generally all work in a similar way. Gamers pay real money for a virtual box or container that awards the purchaser with mods or items they can use in a specific game. The thing is, gamers have no idea what is in the box. It could be the most incredible upgrade possible, or something they find completely useless.

Let’s look at a popular example – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. In this game, players can buy weapon cases which contain skins that change the appearance of players’ weapons. These skins can be common, or they may be rare, in which case they can be sold on for a stack of real-world money. There is simply no way of knowing what is in them.

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Another example is Fifa’s player packs which contain different football players which can be inserted into the user’s team. Again, these player packs contain common or desirable rare footballers which can seriously ramp up a team’s capabilities. Other popular games to offer loot boxes include:

  • Star Wars Battlefront II
  • Overwatch
  • Madden
  • Path of Exile
  • Fortnite

Loot boxes are a huge revenue stream for the developers of these games. As an example, EA reported revenue of $650 million from sales of its Ultimate Team pack in 2016 which is around a third of the revenue from their digital sales. With so much money at stake, they are not going down without a fight.

The case to label loot boxes gambling

The issue has arisen because some people, including minors, are racking up huge bills buying these loot boxes. Some have spent thousands, exhibiting compulsive behaviours similar to problem gamblers. As such, regulators around the globe are scrambling to introduce legislation that would label loot boxes as ‘gambling’.

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Ryan Morrison dubbed The Video Game Attorney has no qualms labelling loot boxes as gambling. In his words – ‘… you’re buying something that has odds to it that you are unaware of, that’s chance, and you’re getting something that you value or don’t value.’

Indeed, several EU nations have been quick to act, none more so than Belgium which decided that loot boxes do fall under their gambling laws. This caused several studios to stop offering loot boxes in their games in that country rather than obtain a gambling license.


For now, without legislation, there is little chance of software developers pulling loot boxes from their games any time soon. For one, it’s a major cash cow, for two, the vast majority of gamers enjoy the service without exhibiting gambling tendencies. For now, the ball is firmly in governments’ courts. Will a blanket law change come about? For now, the answer to that is far from clear cut.

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Rahul Roy
Rahul Roy
I am a computer guy by profession and a sports fanatic by choice.



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