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Are Loot Boxes Really Gambling?

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

/ by Nurdin Budi Mustofa
Are Loot Boxes Really Gambling?

If you’ve paid attention to gaming news over the last few years, you will have probably seen the controversy surrounding loot boxes. They come in many different forms, though the general idea is always the same; you spend a little bit of money, and will receive a random item to use in the game in return. To a lot of people, this sounds an awful lot like gambling, and this is where the issue starts to get complicated. It isn’t the same as the gambling which is done in a casino, but it’s still worth exploring to figure out whether or not it is actually gambling.

Most dictionaries and legal resources define gambling fairly similarly. The Cambridge dictionary, for example, refers to gambling as the activity of betting money. Of course, this is rather vague, and could cover a huge amount of different types of game, even those where you don’t stand to lose anything. When you start to delve a little deeper, though, it can be easy to see where the idea of loot boxes being gambling starts to fall apart.

There are more detailed definitions of gambling available around the web, and most of them seem to point to three main features which a game has to have for it to be considering a betting or gambling game. There has to be an amount of money wagered, a risk that you will lose the money, and the chance that you will win a prize at the end of it. When you think about loot boxes, though, they don’t exactly have all of these features.

To start, you always buy a loot box, rather than betting on it. This means that you are exchanging money for the box itself, rather than wagering the money against someone else’s. You don’t risk losing this money, as you’ll already have spent it, and you will always get a prize at the end of it. This makes a loot box more like a raffle, with most people agreeing that this sort of game doesn’t fall into the category of gambling.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in definitions, though, and comparing loot boxes to other games can be a better way to draw a distinction. Take a Starburst slot game, for example, as most people would agree that something like this constitutes a gamble. In this sort of game, you are putting your money on the line with the chance to get a bigger return from it, but will also risk losing it all. With a loot box, though, you will always get a return, it might just not quite be exactly what you want.

This shows a big difference between loot boxes and gambling. While it may not be a good way for people to buy things, simply having an element of randomness involved doesn’t make it gambling. Instead, when you put money into a loot box, you know exactly what you will get out of the purchase; a random item from the game you’re playing. In the case of a proper bet, though, you won’t know what you’re going to be left with at the end.

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