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App store loot boxes allow for "predatory" gambling, lawsuit alleges

Apple "entices consumers, including children".

Another day, another row over whether loot boxes constitute gambling. The latest development comes as part of a fresh class action lawsuit filed in California on behalf of 100 people.

As recapped by GamesIndustry.biz, Californian law outlines the definition of an illegal gambling device as a machine which requires an item of value to play and doles out something of value by element of chance in return.

The lawsuit's argument is that Apple's own devices are gambling devices because of the apps the company makes available from the Apple App Store.

One particular angle of the lawsuit is the ease in which children become accustomed to loot boxes as a form of acquiring in-game items.

"Not unlike Big Tobacco's 'Joe Camel' advertising campaign, Apple relies on creating addictive behaviours in kids to generate huge profits," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit draws on findings from the Brussels Gaming Commission, such as the use of virtual currencies in games like FIFA and Star Wars Battlefront 2 to obfuscate the real-world value of money being spent. It notes that some countries (Belgium, Netherlands) have outlawed loot boxes while others are investigating.

Finally, the lawsuit points out that Apple's App Store does not label games with loot box mechanics - as the ESRB and PEGI ratings systems in the US and Europe now do for games on PC and consoles. Apple's storefront relies on its own age ratings, and does not have an equivalent warning beyond a generic label that states some games contain "in-app purchases".

Here in the UK, the debate continues. In January, the NHS' mental health boss said that loot boxes were "setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble". Just this month, the possibility of the UK goverment classifying loot boxes as gambling seemed closer than ever, as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport called for evidence from concerned parents. In September 2019, the DCMS select committee recommended the government regulate loot boxes under the Gambling Act.