This week, the UK’s Gambling Commission confirmed to a parliamentary enquiry that loot boxes, FIFA player packs and the like do not constitute gambling under UK law, since there is no official way to cash out your winnings from these blind reward packs. The player, skin or card you might win from a blind pack doesn’t have monetary value – officially – so rolling the dice on ‘packing’ it isn’t gambling, even if you paid real money for the privilege.
Also this week, Rockstar opened a casino in Grand Theft Auto Online after a six-year wait. There are no semantics to be unpicked here: it is a straight-up depiction of gambling, and since GTA Online’s in-game currency is for sale more-or-less directly in the form of Shark Cards, you can buy in with real money. But once again, you can’t cash out – officially. So, at least as far as UK law would have it, it isn’t gambling.
It was hardly a shock move from Rockstar, which already allowed players to wager on games of poker in Red Dead Online. It was, you might argue, unhelpful timing for an industry that is under renewed scrutiny from Parliament – and other bodies worldwide – for the playing and spending habits it encourages, particularly in children. But Rockstar is no stranger to such controversy and often courts it. It suits the developer’s bad-boy image – not to mention the glossy gangster fiction of GTA. And anyway, the law is on its side.