The UK Gambling Commission is powerless to regulate in-game microtransactions unless the government classes them gambling. In an interview with Eurogamer, the Gambling Commission’s chief executive, Tim Miller, says that while precedent is important, the actions of other countries, including Belgium and the United States, have minimal impact on British legislation.
Games rating boards like PEGI and the ESRB can’t comment on lootboxes until the law does.
Miller says “the key in all of this is to recognise it’s parliament rather than [the Gambling Commission] that sets the legal definition of what is or is not gambling.” But with current legal definitions of gambling within the UK, lootboxes don’t count; Miller says that “the lootboxes we’ve seen, none of them contain a facility to cash-out within the game itself, and that’s really the key thing which is preventing them from crossing that line into becoming gambling.”
Even though those facilities don’t exist within the games, they’re often easy to find, which led to the action taken to prosecute FIFA Ultimate Team gambling site FutGalaxy earlier this year, which was led by the commission.
Miller does acknowledge, however, that while microtransactions and gambling games might not be gambling themselves, the behaviour they teach children and young people could be problematic going forward. He says that none of the messages around responsible gambling exist around lootboxes, and that “there will be some of the same behaviours and same activities, yes you may not necessarily be gambling with real money, but the activities have a similar feel to you, the user.” The upshot of that is that there’s a possibility where lootboxes and microtransactions are “creating an environment where young people can be exposed to gambling-style behaviours without necessarily knowing the risks.”
Earlier this week, the Gambling Commission published research showing that 11% of 11-16 year olds in the UK have used skin-betting sites, and the discussion has drawn some attention from the UK government in recent months.