Statement by Minister of State Stanton on the steps he has taken relating to loot boxes, online video games and their relationship with gambling behaviour
The issue of loot boxes and on-line video games, raised by the Senator, has received significant media attention in recent days. There are three elements to this matter that I would like to highlight.
Firstly, Ireland was happy to join in the Declaration from the Gaming Regulators European Forum (GREF) with regard to the undesirability of games, particularly those with huge popularity crossing the line into offering services that might normally be described as gambling. GREF is a voluntary association of European gambling regulatory authorities in which Ireland participates.
Secondly, while the Declaration does not have legal effect, it reflects concern amongst national authorities that online gaming products should be appropriately licensed, if they offer gambling possibilities. A key purpose of the Declaration is to alert parents of potential issues that might arise from in-game purchases. Of course, parents have primary responsibility to protect their children in this regard.
Thirdly, where a game offers the possibility of placing a bet or the taking of risk for financial reward within the game, then, in my view it must be licensed as a gambling product. To offer gambling products in Ireland, a license is required under the Betting Acts 1931-2015 or the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. The Revenue Commissioners are the primary responsible licensing authority under both Acts, with some involvement of the Minister for Justice and Equality.
However, it should be understood, that if a game offers in-game purchases – be they loot boxes, skins, etc. - which are promoted to gamers as increasing their chances of success, such purchases are essentially a commercial or e-commerce activity. This activity would fall within normal consumer law. If there is dissatisfaction with the purchase or, how it is promoted, then objections should be directed to the appropriate authority. My Department does not have a role to regulate game developers on how their games work nor, in the offering of in-game purchases.
Work is ongoing on modernising aspects of gambling law. The Government has approved a number of my proposals to update and modernise the 2013 General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill. These included the establishment of an independent regulatory authority for the gambling industry to conduct the complex range of licensing, regulating, monitoring, inspecting and enforcement tasks required for the gambling industry.
An inter-Departmental Working Group on Gambling has completed its review of the 2013 General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill and is preparing its Report for submission to Government in Autumn 2018.