While state legislatures across the country consider expanding gambling, Congress is cracking down on what they say is a disturbing new trend of gambling creeping into other aspects of the entertainment industry - starting with video games.
The most common form of in-game gambling is through a device called "loot boxes." A familiar practice for most gamers, the randomized digital prizes can be bought by gamers looking to boost the power of their character, or change their look. Now the Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into loot boxes, to see if they should be regulated like other forms of legalized gambling. At a recent Senate hearing, New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan raised the issue with the head of the FTC, pointing out that loot boxes are regulated by numerous other countries, including China, Japan, and most of Europe. She also pointed out that loot boxes have become a $50 billion business - a level that warranted increased federal scrutiny. "I think it is in fact time for the FTC to investigate these mechanisms," Hassan suggested, "to ensure the children are being adequately protected."
Reaction from the gaming world has been relatively positive so far. The Entertainment Software Rating Board represents the industry and says it welcomes any conversation with federal regulators. Ditto with the International Game Developers Association, which issued its own call to action, asking game makers to self-regulate when it comes to loot boxes and other forms of in-game gambling. The group says multiple government investigations are "a clear wake-up call," and say developers should begin phasing out the loot boxes entirely - or take steps to ensure they're not marketed to children. The IGDA has now launched an education campaign to help parents monitor their kids' interactions with the boxes, and also to force disclosure on the odds for winning bigger rewards.