By: Sophie Edbrooke
Earlier video games only wasted time, but the opening of Grand Theft Auto V’s in-game casino could cause modern gamers to lose a lot of money as well. In July of 2019, the popular video game Grand Theft Auto (“GTA”) by Rockstar Games released its online casino, the Diamond Casino and Resort. Players can unlock special missions if they earn or buy more GTA money and purchase different statuses within the casino. While many were awaiting this update in America and much of Western Europe, approximately fifty countries were reported to restrict the gambling features of the Diamond Casino due to each country’s online gambling restrictions, and the United States might do the same.
GTA’s update is a fully comprehensive casino within a video game, and it is popular for players in restricted areas to use VPNs to get around the regional bans. Players can purchase GTA money and play common casino games such as three card poker, blackjack, roulette, and slot machines. The difference between Diamond Casino and real-life gambling, is that Rockstar Games does not allow the player to change his or her GTA money back into U.S. dollars; however, Forbes states that gambling with the fake money might make players believe it is less like real gambling and thus, be more likely to engage in it. While Rockstar Games does not provide a platform to change GTA money back into U.S. dollars, multiple websites aid players in selling his or her own currency to other players at hugely discounted rates, essentially eliminating the difference between the Diamond Casino and real-life gambling.
Before GTA’s release, in May of 2019, the Senate introduced a bill (S.B. 1629) to regulate in-game purchases in video games that are considered lootboxes or microtransactions (pay-to-win transactions). Lootboxes are random transactions that unlock a feature, but the user does not know what they are paying for before completing the transaction. Pay-to-win transactions are products that help a player in achieving awards or accessing content that would be more difficult to achieve without purchase.The bill carves out exceptions to pay-to-win transactions for difficulty modes, cosmetic alterations, and additional game content.This bill does not directly address the type of casino that is featured in GTA; however, the authors of the bill emphasize the importance of shielding minors from the risky gambling behavior.
S.B. 1629, while still in committee, specifically addresses games that target minors, but also includes publishers who have “constructive knowledge” of minors playing games even if not “minor-oriented.” The essence of the bill aims to protect minors from all sorts of gambling conduct, but due to the timing of the bill, it does not include provisions to cover the GTA Casino. So, will the online casino be impacted by this bill?
Rockstar Games arguably has constructive knowledge that minors play its game because it is rated M for Mature, which is defined as 17 years-old and up. GTA also has gambling attributes which can attract the “problem users,” or gambling addicts, that the Senate is concerned about protecting. Therefore, if the Senate were to attempt to enforce the full scope of its Bill, it is likely to turn its sights on the GTA Casino.
The video game industry, notably the Entertainment Software Association (“ESA”) has commented on the possible far reaching effects of this bill and wishes to work with the co-sponsors to avoid harming the video game industry. ESA specifically mentions raising awareness and stricter age verification on the games instead of limiting production of games. Overall, the Senate will have a lot of work to do on this bill and Rockstar Games might be forced to reevaluate its new casino in order for both parties to meet in the middle. Regardless, video game gambling, as gamers know it now and have been long waiting for, will not remain the same in the upcoming years.
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Gina Lees, GTA Casino Update: Everything You Need to Know About the GTA 5 Diamond Casino and Resort, PC Games(July 23, 2019),https://www.pcgamesn.com/grand-theft-auto-v/gta-casino-release-date-diamond-casino.
Dave Their, ‘GTA Online’: Over 50 Countries Have Banned Gambling in The New Diamond Casino, Forbes (Jul. 25, 2019), https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2019/07/25/gta-online-over-50-countries-have-banned-gambling-in-the-new-diamond-casino/#349915175712.
See Lees, supra note 1.
See Their, supra note 3.
See e.g. GTA 5 Online Money,G2G.com, https://www.g2g.com/gta-5-online/money-24309-24310 (last visited Oct. 15, 2019); Buy & Sell GTA 5 Money,Player Auctions, https://www.playerauctions.com/gta-money/ (last visited Oct. 15, 2019); GTA 5 Trading Market,Game Market to Players, https://www.gm2p.com/gta5-money/?console=pc (last visited Oct. 15, 2019).
See S. 1629, 116th Cong. (2019).
Charlie Hall, Anti-loot Box Bill Could Radically Change How Video Games Are Sold, Polygon(May 23, 2019), https://www.polygon.com/2019/5/23/18637556/anti-loot-box-bill-microtransaction-ban-legal-analysis-esa.
See S. 1629, 116th Cong. (2019).
See Entertainment Software Rating Board, “Grand Theft Auto V – Rockstar Games: Rating Summary,” https://www.esrb.org/ratings/33073/Grand+Theft+Auto+V/ (last visited Oct. 15, 2019).
Kyle Langvardt, Regulating Habit-Forming Technology, 88 Fordham L. Rev. 129, 146 (2019).
See Hall, supra note 9.
See id; see also Langvardt, supra note 15, at 569.