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FIFA's loot boxes don't count as gambling, says UK Gambling Commission

The UK Gambling Commission maintains that a lack of rewards with real-world value keeps loot boxes from tipping over into gambling.

The UK Gambling Commission has reiterated that it has had “significant concerns” about games that expose children to chance-based mechanics like loot boxes, but still maintains that current legislation does not define the microtransactions as gambling.

Those recent comments came during the UK's Department for Culture, Media, and Sport's ongoing committee discussion on immersive and potentially addictive technologies.

According to the BBC, Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McCarthur told the commission that current laws don’t see the practice as gambling, largely because there’s no real-world cash value to the items received in a loot box.

"There are other examples of things that look and feel like gambling that legislation tells you are not - [such as] some prize competitions but because they have free play or free entry they are not gambling... but they are a lot like a lottery," McCarthur said.

In the case of FIFA, the actual in-game content received from a loot box-esque “player pack” can’t be outright sold, and therefore doesn’t carry a monetary value and cross over into gambling territory.

EA was one of several game makers to address the committee, specifically defining FIFA’s loot boxes as “surprise mechanics” last month and saying that their implementation “is actually quite ethical and quite fun, quite enjoyable to people.”

The UK Gambling Commission has discussed game-related gambling before, but in the past those offending instances were ether social games based on actual gambling activities or in-game skins being wagered through third-party sites as “skin gambling.”

Its stance on the issue hasn’t changed much from a 2017 discussion about loot boxes, in which executive director Tim Miller explained that “the definition of what is legally classed as gambling is set by Parliament rather than by us. Our role is to apply that definition to activities that we see and any changes to that definition need to be made by Parliament.”

Other governments have weighed the legality of loot boxes in the past few years, notably with both Belgium and The Netherlands ruling that some games fall under its gambling laws because of how they monetize loot boxes.

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