Category Archives: Children

Researchers Want Lawmakers to Treat Loot Boxes as Gambling and Regulate them as Such

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issues with gambling-esque look boxes in video games. This mechanic is essentially a slot machine and encourages children to poor more and more money into the game as they chase the warranted prize from a mystery box. This troubling gambling type mechanic has drawn the ire of legislators and regulatory bodies from around the world. Most recently,  the UK started examining loot boxes and micro transactions and had choice words and spirited exchanges with EA, one of the most aggressive loot box pushing publishers and one of the faces of this controversy. These loot boxes really took hold when EA pushed the mechanic in the Disney owned Star Wars franchise video game they licensed known as Battlefield 2 prompting some to call the Star Wars game nothing more than a themed online casino that preys on children.

Since that time, academics and researchers have been examining the links in problem gambling and loot boxes and have broken down how psychologically manipulative these systems are, even when they fall short of some jurisdictions technical definition of gambling. Most recently, researches discussed how this can be a life of death situation among problem gamblers. Now, a formal recommendation is being made that loot boxes be treated as gambling and regulated as such. The Guardian explains:

Video game loot boxes should be regulated as gambling and children barred from purchasing them, a House of Commons committee has advised. The recommendation comes as part of the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee’s report on immersive and addictive technologies, published on Thursday after months of parliamentary hearings with technology and gaming companies.

While loot boxes involve an element of chance because players do not know what they will get, they are not covered by existing gambling legislation because the items “won” are not considered to have monetary value. But the report heard evidence that loot box winnings can be exchanged for money and that their use by game developers was likely to “facilitate profiting from problem gamblers”.

Researches point to extremely high cost to children that gaming companies are inflicting when they exploit children in this manner. Those cost are financial and otherwise and should prompt legislators to regulate them and ban children from being able to make such gambling type purchase. The Guardian continues:  


Damian Collins, the chair of the committee, said: “Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.”

A survey by the Gambling Commission in 2018 found that 31% of children aged 11-16 had paid for loot boxes, while one gamer told MPs that he was spending up to £1,000 a year on the football game Fifa hoping to win better players for his team.

The report cited evidence from cognitive psychologists that such in-game features are “designed to exploit potent psychological mechanisms associated with […] gambling-like behaviours”.

The committee also argued that online games should be legally covered by the same enforceable age restrictions as physical sales, closing a loophole that publishers argued freed them of responsibility.

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Missouri’s Illegal Gambling Machines are Hurting Public Education Funding

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the on going issue of illegal gambling machines cropping up all over Missouri. These machines are essentially unregulated slot machines in areas outside of Missouri’s regulated casinos. Enforcement issues have been cited, as no one seems to be responsible for shutting them down. This has lead to their proliferation and only now are lawmakers starting to notice.

One of the bigger issues being reported is how money is being syphoned away from public educating funding. Gambling money being used to fund public education is already a troubling proposition, as it general boils down to a shell game of transferred money. Essentially the state has a budget for education. Then a tax on gambling is proposed, normally in exchange for expanded gambling, and a specified amount is then transferred to education. The problem is the original budget is almost always reduced or set in anticipation of the gambling money. It’s rarely ever an actual increase in funding for public education. So it/s even more critical that the expected revenues are collected as the state has made itself reliant on such gambling funds. Now that these gambling machines are spreading and pulling people away from legal, regulated and taxed gambling facilities, and state lottery sales, its public education that’s taking a hit. An online source explains: 

The Missouri Lottery’s executive director testified Thursday in Jefferson City that illegal slot machines are hurting public education in the Show-Me State. Illegal slot machines can be found in bars, restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores.

Scheve Reardon testified during a 90-minute hearing before the House Special Interim Committee on Gaming, which is chaired by State Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial. Shaul tells the audience that illegal slot machines cost Missouri education at least $50 million last year. He says the alleged illegal slot machines are hurting the Lottery, thereby impacting classrooms.

“The (Missouri) Lottery is losing revenue here, because of these alleged illegal machines. So are the (Missouri’s 13) casinos, so is everybody across that’s funding the state. The state is losing money because of these,” says Shaul. Thursday’s hearing was the committee’s second in two weeks. The Missouri Gaming Commission testified before the committee on August 22, saying the state needs a coordinated effort to stop the illegal machines.

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Guest Article: DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the new Department of Justice ruling that reestablished online gambling to be illegal under the wire act. The need for this ruling existed because the long standing intend of the wire act was erroneously reinterpreted by the Obama Administration to only apply to sports betting. This opened the flood gates to all other forms of online gambling. John Kent, Law and Economics Professor at the University of Illinois and the Senior Editor of the United States International Gaming Report opined why this reversal will help protect kids in an article published by The Hill: 

Until 2011, this DOJ ban had been in place for 50 years via the DOJ’s use of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s Wire Act, 18 U.S.C. sec. 1084, which was initially passed to fight organized crime.

In concert with the recommendations of the 1999 U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission established by Congress, the DOJ’s use of the Wire Act protected the public — and particularly kids — from 24/7 online gambling, including gambling on video games.

However, on Dec. 23, 2011 via a 13-page memo, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) reversed its long-held interpretation of the Wire Act to allow online non-sports gambling.

This 2011 OLC opinion was immediately vilified by the national press as reflecting corrupt influences and conflicts of interest, as detailed by the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor on Dec. 27, 2011.

During a congressional hearing on Sep. 27, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) again raised these bipartisan concerns, including OLC conflicts of interest. On Dec. 11, incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) signaled to Gambling Compliance that he thought that the 2011 OLC opinion was incorrect.

Showing a picture of a child on his wireless ipad, Newsweek’s front cover on Aug. 14, 2014 stated:
“How Washington Opened The Floodgates To Online Poker, Dealing Parents a Bad Hand.”

Subsequently, the severe social and economic consequences of online gambling were highlighted in congressional hearings on March 25, 2015, and most recently on Sep. 27 before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, chaired by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

The full article can be viewed HERE. 

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McDonald’s Come Under Fire for Super Mario Slot Machine Toy

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on underage gambling and risk factors for children exposed to gambling. The NFL came under fire for marketing fantasy football to minors, and they decided to end those efforts. More recently, its been loot boxes in video games that have been so widely discussed. As many have explained, it’s a game mechanic with virtually no difference from gambling, with on legislator outright calling Battlefield II a “Star Wars Themed Online Casino.” Where as Mickey Mouse, the second most recognizable character in the world under Disney was under fire (as they own the Star Wars brand and had to intervene in the loot box situation), its now the world most recognizable character, Nintendo’s Mario, that’s in news.   McDonalds made a slot machine toy of Mario in a line of Nintendo themed happy meal toys, and its been called inappropriate by the National Council on Problem Gambling and others. An online source explains: 

Today, Jennifer Kruse, Executive Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), joined the National Council on Problem Gambling by calling upon the toy manufacturer giant, Nintendo® of America, and the fast food industry leader, McDonald’s®, to stop marketing their Slot Machine Super Mario™ toy from McDonald’s® Happy Meals®.

“We were shocked when we noted the slot machine toy in a Happy Meal® here in Florida. Nintendo® and McDonald’s® need to be attentive to the messages their products are promoting among children,” said Kruse. Youngsters are very impressionable and despite the restrictions to gamble among minors, research reveals that adolescents are involved in gambling activities and are at higher risk for developing gambling problems than their adult counterparts.”

“Just because you cannot easily ‘see’ a hazard, does not mean it doesn’t exist. Had the Super Mario™ Happy Meal® toy highlighted a bottle of beer or bloodshot eyes, or had the fantasy character smoking a cigarette, government and others would be up in arms. Unfortunately, we can no longer afford a double standard when research confirms that problem gambling is a growing public health issue, in general, and especially among adolescents, that demands attention now,” concluded Kruse. 

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New Loot Box Legislation Proposed Domestically as Foreign Governments Ban them in Video Games: Publishers State they Wont Stop Exposing Children & Gamers to Such Practices

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing realization that loot boxes are simply a sophisticated form of gambling in video games. More and more jurisdictions are becoming aware of loot box and skin gambling as they are expected to reach revenue over $50 billion dollars by 2020. Many domestic jurisdictions have already proposed regulations, studies or called for the industry to self-regulate. Minnesota is the most recent to propose legislation. An online source explains: 

[N]ew loot box bill was introduced in Minnesota this week. The bill joins other state level legislative efforts in the USA, which were introduced since the global loot box debate peaked in the second half of 2017. State Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South Saint Paul) introduced the bill H.F. 4460, which “would regulate ‘loot box’ gambling in video games”. The matter was discussed and both parties spoke in favor of the bill. According to Rep. Hansen “People are spending real money on random drawings in video games. Minnesota regulates gambling and when loot boxes meet the threshold to be considered gambling, then we need to treat it as such and regulate it too.”

The bill prohibits the sale of a “video game containing a system that permits the in-game purchase of (1) a randomized reward or rewards, or (2) a virtual item that can be redeemed to directly or indirectly receive a randomized reward or rewards to a person under 18 years of age” [sic].

Additionally, no video game may be sold or provided unless accompanied by a warning stating: “Warning: This game contains a gambling-like mechanism that may promote the development of a gaming disorder that increases the risk of harmful mental or physical health effects, and may expose the user to significant financial risk.” For games sold through electronic means, the warning must be acknowledged by the purchaser.

The Minnesota bill has a long way to go before it becomes binding legislation, as do most of the domestic bills discussed recently. However, several foreign government have passed and implement regulations including outright banning loot boxes from video games. The online European source The Verdict explains: 

Belgium has followed the Netherlands in banning the sale of loot boxes in video games, as Europe begins to crack down on what it deems to be illegal gambling operations run by major game publishers. Speaking to /Verdict/, a Belgian Gaming Commission spokesperson said: “The Belgian Gaming Commission has come to the conclusion thatreal-money loot boxes are gambling. This means that in Belgium, these types of games are prohibited unless licensed.”

If they do not adapt their games, they all potentially face criminal prosecution. Punishments would include up to five years in prison and fines of up to €800,000, which could be doubled if it is found that minors were involved.

It is highly likely that this would be the case. Approximately 22% of video gamers are aged between ten and 20 years old according to Statista, which is largely the cause of the Belgian Gaming Commission’s concerns. The Belgian Gaming Commission added:

“Real-money loot boxes are not innocent. Especially because the video games that they appear in are often played by children. “The Gaming Commission wants to protect the players in general and vulnerable groups (e.g. minors) in particular.”

Despite all these bans and all the discussion of how loot boxes are gambling and harmful to children, publishers don’t seem to willing to stop such predatory practices. EA, the publisher whose Star Wars video game Battlefront started this backlash, has been the most vocal about their inability to part from this gaming mechanic. The Verdict continues:

The loot box debate has been going for some time, but the bans issued by the Netherlands and Belgium are the first sign that governments are beginning to take notice. However, at least for the time being, publishers are unlikely to be too concerned.

Tom Wijman, market consultant at video game research company Newzoo, told Verdict: “I don’t expect publishers to be too worried, it should be quite simple to turn the option for loot boxes off for Belgian and Dutch bank accounts, and those markets are pretty small compared to the United States or UK.”

EA stated that it disagrees with Belgium’s ruling. A company spokesperson told /Verdict/ that the company welcomes discussions with Belgian authorities, but did not confirm whether it intends to comply with the request to remove these items from its games. EA CEO Andrew Wilson has since told industry analysts that the company plans to continue pushing forward with services such as Fifa Ultimate Team, which generates vast revenues through the sale of loot box items known as player packs.

For now, the issue is more of a nuisance than a problem for game publishers, but it could get worse if other regulators decide to follow Belgium’s lead. “I think the significant part about these bans isn’t so much theNetherlands and Belgium banning loot boxes, but rather the messagethis sends to regulatory institutions for gambling worldwide,”Wijman added. Should other countries issue similar bans, the attack on loot boxes could prove costly for developers.

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Video Game Loot Boxes and Skins Gambling Pose Risk to Children as Revenue Generated are Expected to Reach $50 Billion

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing battle by legislators and video game companies over the highly controversial loot box mechanics that many see as out right gambling being marketed to children and older gamers alike. Its now being reported that revenue generating from micro transactions in video games could almost double over the next four years. An online investment source explains: 

A new study from Juniper Research forecasts that loot boxes and skins gambling, two emerging gaming growth sectors, will reach a total spend of $50 billion by 2022, up from under $30 billion this year. Loot boxes are in-game packs which contain a random selection of items; while skins are in-game cosmetics which change the appearance of weapons or characters.

The new research, Daily Fantasy Sports & In-game Gambling; Skins and Loot Boxes 2018-2022, found that skins gambling should be of great concern to regulators. Frequently utilized as virtual currency for betting, skins are then cashed-in for real money via online trading platforms.

Research author Lauren Foye explained: “Skins are acquired both through playing video games and from opening purchased loot boxes. These items have value depending on rarity and popularity within game communities. On PCs, skins are traded for real money via Steam’s ‘Marketplace’; the platform has 125 million registered users globally.”

These grown numbers are especially troubling when one understands just how prevent these transactions are accessible by children. In the US, many legislators have taken notice and started discussions and legislation formation to address the issue. In the UK, the amount of kids identified as having already participated in skins gambling is beyond troubling. The article continues: 

A 2017 study by the Gambling Commission found that 11% of 11-16 year olds in the UK had placed bets with skins; meaning around 500,000 children under the age of 15 could be using skins for gambling. Juniper finds skin gambling risks being pushed underground; without further counter-measures, wagers will surpass $1 billion globally by 2022, a fifth of the global market seen prior to Steam’s interference.

Juniper strongly recommends regulation for skin trading and gambling, in an attempt to both prevent youth participation and remove malicious actors who run sites which steal skins or short-change users.

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A Brief Look at Crime 03/05 – 03/11

Gunmen Shoot 21 at Clandestine Cockfight in Mexican Border State

Preliminary information revealed that an unknown number of gunmen opened fire at the cockfighting arena known as “Centro Gallístico Santa María” which is located on the outskirts of the state capital of Chihuahua, according to Mexican news outlets. Based on a statement by the state prosecutor’s office, several masked gunmen opened fire on people gathered at the club late Saturday at approximately 11pm. Four were killed at the scene with an additional three succumbing to their wounds in transit to hospital. Two of the wounded were identified as children aged seven and 10. One victim, who died early Sunday morning, was identified as 15-year-old Juan Daniel Magallanes Rodríguez received a gunshot to the chest. Cockfighting is very popular in many parts of Mexico; the primary draw is the gambling. The activity also tends to invite organized crime and cartel elements due to the high-stakes wagers. Gun violence is also common. Cockfighting operations have also been discovered in the United States, typically along the southern border. The illegal operations are primarily run by illegal and legal immigrants from Mexico. Numerous operations have been closed down in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and California.

‘The sense of betrayal … was awful’ – Sterling woman gets 6 years, $400,000 bill for her gambling related crimes

A longtime employee, considered to be family, violates a position of extreme trust and breaks the hearts of her boss and coworkers by stealing vast amounts of money to finance a hobby that’s overtaken her life. Trisha Clemens of Sterling was sentenced Tuesday to 6 years in prison, and ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution, plus fines and fees, in two felony theft cases. With day-for-day credit, she could be out and paying her tab by March 2021. It’s a big one: That’s $291,153.45 she owes Sterling law firm Miller & Lancaster, for stealing deposits, not reporting cash payments, and writing checks for herself and her credit card bills from Dec. 3, 2007, through May 18, 2015, and $108,793 she must pay famed fantasy author and Sterling native Terry Brooks, whose comic book collection, stored at the firm, she ransacked and sold piecemeal. Clemens, who had hoped for 4 years’ probation, cited an online gambling addiction and alcohol abuse.

Fulton woman faces 20 years for national casino fraud scheme

Wang faces two to 20 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines. Her case was the product of a joint investigation by the FBI and California’s Bureau of Gambling Control. Wang and a co-defendant — Frank Luo, 49, of Las Vegas — participated in a scheme to defraud casinos and credit card companies across the country. The scheme involved using the names and social security numbers of migrant workers to apply for casino credit and to open credit card accounts. Casino credit — also called a “marker” — is a cash advance provided by a casino to a patron, and it is often secured by a check from the patron’s bank account, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Initially, Wang and Luo paid off several of these “markers” on time to give the impression of “credit worthiness” to casinos and credit card companies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. But then Wang and Luo recruited “clients” to participate in the scheme to induce the casinos and credit card companies to part with even more money under fraudulent pretenses. Wang and others working with her coordinated their gambling activity to give the appearance of losing money, which encouraged the casinos to issue future “markers,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The investigation found that one schemer would “lose” money while another would gain the same.

Ex-employee sentenced to prison for embezzling $500K from Tucson auto dealership

A former employee of Chapman Honda was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for embezzling $500,000 from the auto dealer. Brenda Reiko Bryan pleaded guilty in July to two counts of wire fraud, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson. Prosecutors said she spent nearly six years forging signatures, depositing Chapman Automotive Group checks into her bank accounts, and using company checks to pay her bills. Judge Rosemary Marquez on Tuesday also ordered Bryan to pay back the $514,000 she embezzled from 2007 to 2013, court records show. Bryan used the money to pay her auto loan student loans, travel, gambling, her daughter’s wedding, and to pay off her credit cards and those of her family members, federal prosecutor Jane Westby wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

Man sentenced to prison for running illegal sports betting ring

A man who ran an international bookmaking operation out of the Lucky Lady Casino and Card Room in San Diego was sentenced Monday to about three years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Sanders Segal, 66, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy in San Diego federal court on Aug. 29. In addition to serving a 37-month prison sentence, Segal was ordered to pay about $222,000 in criminal forfeiture for the proceeds he made from bookmaking, money laundering and collecting illegal bets, prosecutors said. In his plea agreement, Segal admitted he oversaw Segal’s Lucky Lady Sports Book from 2013 to 2016, directing associates to place illegal sports bets on overseas gambling sites on behalf of customers in the U.S. The sites were in places such as Costa Rica, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. The bookmaking operation, which used the licensed casino on El Cajon Boulevard as a front, generated nearly $1 million in profits, authorities said. Segal admitted he received 10 percent of the profits in the enterprise.

Michigan woman admits to embezzling $1.9M

A Michigan woman has admitted to embezzling more than $1.9 million from her employer and tax evasion after being charged in federal court. Lori Lynn Pawielski of Buchanan has been charged with attempting to evade or defeat tax from 2009 to 2015. Pawielski has agreed to plead guilty to the tax evasion charge, and in return will not be charged with embezzlement. In a signed plea agreement filed with the Western District of Michigan federal court, Pawielski admitted to embezzling $1,962,611 from her former employer over the span of seven years. She wrote 271 checks to herself without her employer’s knowledge. Pawielski then used that money for personal use, including gambling at a casino.

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