Rockstar Games announced recently their intention to launch an outright casino in the world of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) Online amid the loot box gambling controversy that’s become a hot topic among video games.
The iconic video game developers unveiled their intention in mid-June to launch a casino into the virtual world of Los Santos, the fictional setting of GTA V and GTA Online. Rockstar has never been one to shy away from controversy, and the announcement of GTA Online’s casino launches them into a new one.
The controversy has been centering around the idea of virtual loot boxes, items which are acquired within a video game that contain a randomized set of items. Depending on the game, these items can range from a series of cosmetic upgrades to legitimately game-changing items.
The issue is two-fold: these loot boxes that they could contain items labeled “rare” that are highly sought after by players, and the fact that loot boxes can be acquired via real currency. Because of this, some players are buying huge numbers of loot boxes in the hope of acquiring these rare items.
The similarities to gambling, in the eyes of many, lie in the fact that players are spending real money on randomized chances to win something of value in return. It’s not quite the same as risking money to earn money, but the concept is similar: risk real money to earn something of value.
In a semi-unrelated vein, the loot box controversy is not giving gambling a good name. Video game developers are under no obligation to offer a decent Return To Player beyond the classification of certain items that players are buying.
As a result, there’s been movement in the US legislature to ban the practice of loot boxes and microtransactions aimed at children. Other countries have resorted to forcing publishers to pull games from their markets due to violations of a country’s respective gambling laws.
The second piece of background is Rockstar’s history with gambling and controversy in their various video games. Even people who aren’t familiar with video games have likely heard of Rockstar and their infamous GTA series, which has been the center of several controversies itself.
As it pertains to gambling, GTA San Andreas was the last game in the series to involve gambling, and there was no multiplayer mode officially available (some fans have since modified the game to include a multiplayer mode). The San Andreas version included roulette, video poker, slots, and blackjack.
The latest Rockstar blockbuster, Red Dead Redemption 2, included Texas Hold ‘em as a playable feature in both single-player and multiplayer. However, not everyone has access to the multiplayer poker games. A fan contacted Rockstar about it and received the explanation on regional laws.
”We are sorry to let you know that the availability of Poker in Red Dead Online is dependent on regional laws and regulations and may not be available to all players. In short, poker won’t be available in countries where online gambling is restricted or illegal.”
Additionally, Red Dead Online contains two forms of currency, and the type used in poker is not available to purchase via real money. So there’s no real money at stake in Red Dead Online’s poker.
That brings us to GTA Online’s Casino announcement. Unless Rockstar makes the casino run under its own currency, there will be problems.
Currently, GTA Online only uses one kind of currency, and that currency is available for purchase with regular money. There’s no exchange for in-game currency back into real money (for obvious reasons) but it still allows the dreaded microtransaction to feed into the game.
Details surrounding the GTA Online Casino are scarce at the moment, so it’s entirely possible Rockstar will have found another way for users to access the casino without infringing on gambling laws. Of course, with the amount of info we have, it could simply be a hub for new missions.
Regardless, Rockstar is jumping head-first into a new set of controversies with the announcement. And, likely as shrewdly planned, a whole lot of free press.