There's no end in sight to the controversy surrounding loot boxes in gaming, which has crystallised around the launch of Star Wars Battlefront 2.

Last week, the Belgium Gaming Commision began an investigation into the practice of selling lumps of random in-game loot, sparked by the furore kicked up by Battlefront 2 prior to its launch.

Now, the Belgian commission has weighed in with its findings - and deemed loot boxes as "gambling".

"The mixing of money and addiction is gambling," a spokesperson for the commision told Belgian news site VTM. "It will require time, because we need to go to Europe with this. We will absolutely try to forbid it."

(Thanks to Eurogamer reader Daan for the full translation.)

It sounds decisive, but it's worth treating with some caution. Responding to the Belgian commission's latest statement, UK gaming lawyer Jas Purewal noted the country still had "no considered policy position, no stated strategy" and that "gambling authorities move slowly on the whole".

"TLDR - don't read much into Belgium news yet. Even if somehow it happens, I don't think it would actually change very much at all. Only if this becomes a concerted international movement against video games gambling would things change. The chances of that happening seems very low."

Meanwhile, across the globe in Hawaii, down-with-the-kids Democrat politician Chris Lee added more fuel to EA's fire by publicly calling for legislation to end the sale of loot boxes to minors.

In a statement to press last night, Lee - a Hawaii State Representative and Chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee - spoke out against Battlefront 2 specifically, and called out EA for being "predatory". And yes, Lee did utter Star Wars' infamous "It's a trap" quote.

"We're here today to ensure future protections for kids, youth and everyone when it comes to the spread of predatory practices in online gaming, and the significant financial consequences it can have - and has been having - on families around this nation," Lee said.

"This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money; it's a trap. This is something we need to address to ensure that particularly kids who are underage, who are not psychologically and emotionally mature enough to be able to gamble - which is why gambling is prohibited under 21 - are protected from being trapped into these cycles which have compelled many folks to spend thousands of dollars in gaming fees online."

Lee then said he would investigate a legal response to the selling loot boxes to children - effectively calling for a ban. He also said he was using his influence to encourage other Democratic representatives to speak up elsewhere, also.

"We're looking at legislation this coming year which could prohibit the sale of these games to folks who are underage in order to protect families, as well as prohibiting different kinds of mechanisms in those games. We've been talking with several other states as well - legislators there who are looking at the same thing. This is the appropriate time to make sure these issues are addressed before this becomes the new norm for every game."

Lee was joined at the podium by another Democratic member of the Hawaii House of Representatives, Sean Quinlan, who compared the practice of encouraging minors to gamble to the idea of advertising cigarettes to kids.

"One of the things that's really disturbing about this, to me, is this was previously a business practice that was mostly seen in the mobile gaming market... and now it's moved into the main event," Quinlan stated. "This is a triple-A title that's been released by the world's largest gaming studio, and it has the most popular intellectual property in the world attached to it, and it's marketed squarely at children.

"Some of you folks who are older may remember a character called Joe Camel; he's not around any more. We didn't allow Joe Camel to encourage your kids to smoke cigarettes and we shouldn't allow Star Wars to encourage your kids to gamble."

The debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling, feels like it has reached breaking point. It's unlikely any of the above action will lead to direct consequences for Star Wars Battlefront 2 - new legislation takes time, and Battlefront has already launched - but wheels now seem to be in motion.

Additional reporting by Rob Purchese.

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Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips

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