US and European gambling regulators may crack down on loot boxes

Sites that offer illegal gambling on games are also in the crosshairs.

Gambling regulators from Europe and the US are turning up the heat on game developers over loot boxes, which some jurisdictions claim violate gambling laws. A group of 15 European agencies and the Washington State Gambling Commission agreed to work together to "address the risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling."

"Tackling unlicensed third-party websites offering illegal gambling linked to popular video games is a priority," the UK's Gambling Commission said; the agencies have urged the games industry and technology platforms to help stamp out such sites. The regulators also said developers need to make sure loot boxes aren't considered gambling under local laws.

"We have joined forces to call on video games companies to address the clear public concern around the risks gambling and some video games can pose to children," said Neil McArthur, chief executive of the Gambling Commission. "We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected."

As far as the UK agency is concerned, loot boxes aren't considered a form of gambling as long as you can't exchange the virtual goods you receive for real money. The agency is keeping the issue under review, it said last year.

However, some third-party sites let players buy and sell items such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive skins and Ultimate Team players in FIFA 18. One site we found offers players the chance to add Juventus megastar Cristiano Ronaldo to their Ultimate Team for an eye-popping $156.

The regulators haven't taken formal action as yet against any developers, many of which rely on loot boxes as a revenue stream. The move comes after the Netherlands banned loot boxes in some games, and Belgium declared them an illegal form of gambling in titles such as FIFA 18, Overwatch and CS: GO. But EA continued to sell loot boxes (i.e. randomized card packs in Ultimate Team) in FIFA 18, and it's now reportedly under criminal investigation in Belgium. Meanwhile, in a separate case from the gambling regulators, Finland is also reportedly investigating loot boxes.