Earlier this week we heard from people within the Queensland and Victorian statutory gambling regulators about loot boxes, and whether they constitute gambling. Today we've got a third body to add to the list: the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA).
ACMA is the independent federal body that regulates and oversees advertising on the internet, radio, and broadcast TV in Australia. They're also responsible for enforcing the federal Spam Act, running a hotline for Australians to report offensive online material (including child pornography) and the Do Not Call Register database.
ACMA also oversees the Interactive Gambling Act, which is the relevant piece of federal law that affects things like online pokies, poker website, and betting in general. It's why Queensland's gambling regulator recommended people contact ACMA with regards to loot boxes. Most state gaming and gambling legislation was written with horses and pokies in mind, not Tracer skins and virtual crafting parts for Star Wars.
Yesterday we had comments from a senior analyst at Victoria's gambling commission on loot boxes. Today, Queensland's statutory regulator has their turn - and their take on loot boxes is a fraction different.
It's not just the state of Hawaii that are investigating loot boxes. In email correspondence with a local university student, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) has revealed that, yes, loot boxes constitute a form of gambling - at least in Victoria.
I contacted ACMA earlier this week, pointing them back to noise being made about loot boxes at home and abroad, and asked them some simple questions. Did they believe loot boxes constituted gambling, either mechanically or under the definition of Australian law?
And was ACMA keeping an eye on loot boxes and their implementation in video games, especially given that an analyst at the VCGLR indicated they had spoken with their "counterparts" in Australia and elsewhere about the topic.
Late last night, I got a reply from ACMA's media team. It was short, but it confirmed two things: loot boxes don't constitute gambling under the Interactive Gambling Act (IGA), but the regulator is keeping an eye on proceedings nonetheless:
In general, online video games, including games that involve ‘loot box’ features, have not been regarded as ‘gambling services’ under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, because they are not ‘played for money or anything else of value’. That is, the game is not played with the object of winning money or other valuable items.
However, the ACMA is monitoring the use of loot boxes and the use of other similar in-game mechanics that have gambling-like characteristics.
ACMA also referred me to a post about reforms to the IGA Act, which were passed in mid-September. Put simply, the reforms give ACMA "disruption measures to curb illegal offshore gambling activity", clarifications around "click-to-call" in-play betting services and amendments that would "make it clear that it is illegal for gambling companies to provide certain gambling services to Australians" without an Australian gambling license.
None of that refers to loot boxes, of course, but it's a potential red flag for esports.