Will the UK Join Belgium In Classifying Loot Boxes as a Form of Gambling?

Loot boxes have been classed as a form of gambling by the Belgium government according to local news source VTM.

Koen Geens loot boxes.

Belgian minister Koen Geens rules that loot boxes in video games are a form of gambling and should be banned. (Image: Annika Haas/commons.wikimedia.org)

After launching an investigation in mid-November, the Belgian Gaming Commission has concluded that mystery boxes in games such as Star Wars: Battlefront II aren’t simply an in-game extra.

The ruling could prove significant for UK gamers as the Belgian authority’s review was triggered, in part, by Conor Rhys Deeley.

UK Petition Helps Spark Belgian Investigation

After raising the question on Reddit, Deeley launched an online petition calling for the UK government to consider the status of loot boxes.

In his opinion, the fact players have to purchase the boxes using real money and play for prizes with unknown values was tantamount to gambling.

The petition quickly amassed more than 10,000 signatures, which meant a member of parliament was obliged to respond. Pointing to the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) recent assessment, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tracey Crouch issued a statement essentially dismissing the issue.

According to official policy, only items that can be “traded or exchanged outside the game platform” go on to “acquire a monetary value.” If these items have to be gambled for, then it is up to the game provider to obtain an iGaming licence.

Because the items available in loot boxes don’t have any value outside of the game (as they typically contain character upgrades), they don’t fall under the UKGC’s remit at this time. However, this could change now that the Belgian Gambling Commission has taken a different view.

Geens Pushing for a European Ban

With a week-long investigation complete, the Minister of Justice Koen Geens said that loot boxes offered a combination of gambling and addiction that must be outlawed. Moreover, the minister suggested that all financial microtransactions in computer games should be outlawed.

Before the Belgian government had delivered its verdict, game developer EA removed the loot box system in the recently released Star Wars: Battlefront II. This, however, may not be enough as Geens will be pushing for a Europe-wide ban on all instances of the controversial feature.

Although the UKGC has yet to comment further on loot boxes, a move by European lawmakers could force a change in the UK.

Even though the country is set to leave the EU in 2019, it’s still obliged to follow protocol until then. Additionally, with the UKGC being seen as the leading regulator in Europe, it will want to stay ahead of the curve on issues such as this.

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