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Washington state senator introduces bill to tackle the big loot box debate

Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker has introduced a bill that seeks to answer the million dollar question: should loot boxes be classified as gambling?

Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker has introduced a bill that seeks to answer the million dollar question: should loot boxes be classified as gambling? 

The goal of the bill, Ranker explained to the Washington-based News Tribune, is to task state officials and game developers with determining whether mechanics like loot boxes are a form of gambling that preys on children. 

Specifically, the bill seeks to determine if loot boxes are considered gambling under Washington law, if such mechanics belong in games and apps, if minors should have access to games that feature loot boxes, and if game developers should be more transparent and disclose the odds of random-chance microtransactions. 

Under the proposed bill, the Washington State Gambling Commission would be required to conduct a study on the use of loot box-style mechanics in video games and provide lawmakers recommendations of how to best regulate loot boxes such as options for a regulatory and enforcement system or restrictions on the sale of games containing such mechanics.

“What the bill says is, ‘Industry, state: sit down to figure out the best way to regulate this,’” Ranker told the News Tribune. “It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something.”

Ranker notes that he’d like to see developers disclose the odds for chance-based purchases to protect younger players from the temptation to overspend on random-chance items. But ultimately, as he explained to the News Tribune, his line of thinking is that if it looks like gambling it should be regulated like gambling. 

The Entertainment Software Rating Board has already weighed in on the issue in the past, finding that loot boxes do not meet its definition of gambling since a player is always guaranteed to receive game content for their purchase. 

However other officials, both inside and outside of the U.S., disagree with that assessment. Hawaii state Representative Chris Lee announced his intent to introduce legislation in Hawaii to block the sale of games that feature loot boxes to minors. Additionally, an official within the Belgian Gaming Commission noted that he’d like to see loot boxes banned, though the Commission’s official investigation is yet ongoing. 

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