Australian MP aims for 18+ limit on ‘insidious’ gambling gateway loot boxes

In an enhancement of the legislative spotlight on betting and gaming in Australia, an MP has introduced a Bill to clamp down on loot boxes in video games.

Andrew Wilkie, an Independent MP for the Clark constituency in Tasmania, has introduced a Bill to amend the Classification (PubIicatioDS, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.

Addressing fellow legislators, the MP – who has introduced similar legislation in the past –  described loot boxes as ‘an insidious gateway to gambling that is being widely used to target our kids’. 

The debate on loot boxes, in-game products which video gamers purchase in order to gain additional features or assets which are at the time unknown to them, is international and long-running.

Many reform advocates, such as Wilkie, have argued that the products can function as an introduction to gambling for under-18 consumers due to the buyers paying to ‘chance their luck’.

“This is gambling by any definition, and is routinely being experienced by children and adolescents right across Australia. No wonder gambling companies are buying up online gaming companies,” the MP remarked in parliament.

“In other words, the outlay of money, an element of chance or risk, the tantalising prize and the psychological thrill of anticipation – all features most people associate with poker machines and casino games, surely not with the games our children are playing.”

Specifics of the Bill would introduce caveats to existing legislation requiring any video games featuring loot boxes to be classified as 18 plus, in line with other gambling-related products.

The amendments would also require a warning to be displayed on games that include ‘loot box-type mechanisms’ in order for parents and guardians of children to identify which titles include the features.

This marks the second time WIlkie has introduced legislation in Australia with the aim of introducing age limits on loot boxes, having also done so last year.

In his presentation to the House of Representatives, Wilkie cited Australia Gaming Council (AGC) research which found that 52% of the best selling games in the country included loot boxes, and that all young people surveyed had played titles with them included. 

“Disturbingly, the study also found that young people who had used loot boxes were more likely to have gambled in the last 12 months, have games more frequently, spent more money gambling and had more gambling problems,” he continued, adding that such young people were also more likely to have positive views of gambling.

The evidence, Wilkie argued, is clear, and the government needs to ‘step up’ to regulate gambling industry practices in order to limit young consumers’ exposure to ‘insidious gambling activities in their video games’.

“The changes proposed in my bill will go a long way in ensuring that this predatory in-game behaviour is no longer allowed to continue unchecked,” he concluded.

Wilkie’s moves to clamp down on loot boxes comes against the backdrop of wider political probing of Australia’s betting and gaming practices. 

In September, the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs of the House of Representative initiated an inquiry into the sector. 

Committee Chair Peta Murphy MP explained that legislators would examine whether current laws, regulations, consumer protections and education and support programmes were doing enough to reduce gambling harm.

Loot boxes have also attracted interest in other jurisdictions due to the products similarly to gambling, such as in Japan and Belgium where the features are classified as 18 plus, as WIlkie wishes for Australia. 

In Spain, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs is reportedly following its Belgian and Japanese counterparts, although in the UK the DCMS was criticised earlier this year for lacking a coherent policy in the products in the midst of the 2005 Gambling Act review.

SBC News Australian MP aims for 18+ limit on ‘insidious’ gambling gateway loot boxes

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