Hawaii State Rep. Chris Lee is among a growing number of lawmakers who are focusing their attention on the controversial video game gambling business in recent weeks.
Gambling elements have long been widespread in mobile/console video games available to kids. However, that could change following high profile criticism of Electronic Arts’ new release, Star Wars: Battlefront II.
“We are here today to ensure future protections for kids, youth, and everyone when it comes to the spread of predatory practices in online gaming,” Rep. Lee said in a press conference Tuesday.
“This game is a Star Wars themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It’s a trap,” Lee added. “We’re looking at legislation this year that could prohibit access, or prohibit the sale of these games to folks who are underage in order to protect families.”
The statement comes just days after policymakers in the country of Belgium moved to consider a future ban on real money gambling mechanisms in video game titles.
Video Game Loot Crates Target Kids
Real money wagering inlays (known as loot crates) have sparked an uproar from gamers worldwide and resulted in The Most Down-Voted Comment in Reddit History after publisher EA attempted to justify the pay-to-win mechanisms in Battlefront II.
The video game industry has historically been exempt from regulations that are enforced on games such as poker and casino products that protect against underage gambling. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) awards underage ratings to video game titles in which players of all ages can spend thousands (or more) for in-game perks that affect gameplay.
Last month, Activision’s matchmaking patent made mainstream headlines, showing just how predatory video game publishers have become in “turning players into payers.”
Loot Boxes Temporarily Removed from Star Wars: Battlefront II
Electronic Arts decided to temporarily remove video game gambling from the Battlefront II title amid pressure from Walt Disney Co. executives related to fans’ displeasure with the micro-transactions that were heavily featured in the game’s early release versions.
Concerns over ill-will towards the brand come as Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi is scheduled to hit box office theaters in less than one month (December 13th). However, the loot boxes could be reinstated shortly thereafter — and pay-to-win video game gambling elements are still present in other popular titles such as Middle Earth: Shadow of War.
Regulated Future for Video Game Gambling?
With the rampant spread of Gacha mechanics and other gambling elements in video games, Triple A console titles could soon find themselves as direct competition to regulated online gambling services offered by sites such as PokerStars, 888poker and Partypoker.
PokerStars — the world’s largest real money poker site — already has its own loot crate system in place to dole out cashback rewards to players (see: PokerStars Chests). However, the site is strictly regulated in key regions within the United States and the United Kingdom and specifically blocks underage patrons from participating via Know Your Customer guidelines and other safeguards.
Mediarex Launches Venture into eSports Realm
Malta-based Mediarex Entertainment — which is headed by controversial Global Poker League CEO Alex Dreyfus — is attempting to become a major player in the poker, video game and eSports industries through authoritative rankings systems aimed at linking competitive gaming across a broad spectrum of peer-to-peer offerings.
However, those efforts have struggled in recent years as top-level players debate the legitimacy of real money poker rankings that do not accurately reflect total buy-ins compared to total winnings — as players are often “backed” by investors to enter multi-table tournaments (MTTs) in poker.
While Dreyfus’ promotion of popular eSports titles such as League of Legends and Fortnite Battle Royale are in-line with Mediarex’s banter, there is no indication at this time that the GPL executive seeks to capitalize on underage video game gambling. In fact, regulated online poker and gaming services have remained steadfast in providing protections to eliminate underage gambling in real money games through KYC, Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and other measures.
The 2018 calendar year could be a game-changer for how traditional, regulated online poker and other gambling services compete against the video game industry… and regulators could quickly alter the playing field if more lawmakers decide to take action against underage gambling.