Category Archives: legislation

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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Supreme Court Could Rule in Favor of Sports Betting Expansion Soon, MLB & NBA Seek to Impose a Controversial Integrity Fee

Casino Watch Focus has reported over the years on the numerous efforts by New Jersey to legalize sports betting in their State. As is stands. Las Vegas is the only place where sports betting in allowed and the Supreme Court has heard arguments about the appropriateness of the PASPA, the law which makes it illegal outside of that specific jurisdiction. Experts believe the ruling could come as early as Monday, April 2nd, so states are getting ready. The Washington Post reports:

Some time before July — perhaps as early as Tuesday — the Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling that could drastically alter sports gambling in the United States, possibly striking down the 25-year-old federal law that largely prohibits sports bets outside of Nevada or maybe allowing individual states to decide for themselves whether fans should be permitted to wager on games.

While the Supreme Court could opt to maintain the status quo, many sports gambling analysts and court-watchers anticipate a ruling that lays out some sort of path to legal sports wagering. At oral arguments in December, a majority of justices seemed receptive to New Jersey’s argument. At least 18 state legislatures have some form of legislation in the works in anticipation of the Supreme Court giving them a path to legalized sports betting.

The States aren’t the only ones preparing for such a Supreme Court decision. Whereas the NHL and NFL are continuing their position of opposing sports gambling, the NBA and MLB are actively lobbying state legislatures to craft gambling legislation that they believe will be integral to the leagues. Bloomberg explains:

Now, on the eve of a Supreme Court decision that could reshape gambling in America the leagues have come around. Professional baseball and basketball have gone further: They also want a cut of the profits, drawing a new battle line with the casinos and sparking a state-by-state lobbying war. The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball are asking legislators to require casinos to pay the leagues 1 percent of all wagers placed on their sports. Casinos and sports book operators, unsurprisingly, are vehemently opposed.

The fee is by far the most controversial entry on the leagues’ wish list, though there are others: The leagues want states to require bookmakers to use official data streams, share consumer information and allow the leagues final approval of what types of wagers are allowed on their games.

The leagues justify the fee as part royalty, owed to the league for rights to profit off its games; and part insurance policy, to offset the risk to the league that its games will be corrupted and the money it will spend to make sure they aren’t.

“Sports betting is built on our games,” NBA General Counsel Dan Spillane told a hearing of Connecticut legislators on March 1. “If something goes wrong, if there’s a scandal, something that tarnishes the image of the game, that’s going to be a cost borne by the sports leagues, and less of a cost borne by the operators that offer sports bets.”

A representative from William Hill Plc, one of the world’s biggest gambling companies, made the bookmaker’s case. Las Vegas casinos typically keep about 5 percent of the bets they take, he said, which means the NBA’s proposed 1 percent cut is really a 20 percent cut of revenue.

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Florida Ends Session with No Gambling Bills Passed – Seminole Tribe Provided Assurances to Continue the Revenue Sharing Compact in the Interim

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion issues in Florida. Many issues were on the table this legislative session including a new gambling compact between the State and the Seminole Tribe, a greyhound racing ban, specific regulations on types of card games to be allowed, and the location and expiation of new slot machines in the states. The hope was to address these issues this legislative session, as it seems clear that a new amendment will pass a vote of the people to require all future gambling legislation to be approved by the voters. Most recently though, Casino Watch Focus reported that those goals were unlikely to be achieved as the focus of the Florida legislators would be shifting to focus on gun control legislation that was prompted after the Parkland school shooting. After those efforts were complete, gambling discussions were given some very last minute life, but as reported by The Palm Beach Post, those efforts have come to a close with no new gambling bills being passed:

Republican legislative leaders had resurrected the issue in the waning days of the session as they tried to strike a deal between the gambling-leery House and the Senate, which was willing to expand slot machines to counties where voters have approved the lucrative machines.

But after a day of horse-trading, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron declared the issue off the table. “Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” the leaders said in a statement Friday evening. “Gaming remains one of the most difficult issues we face as a Legislature. We are pleased with the progress made over the last week and know that our colleagues will continue to work on this important issue.”

Lawmakers were anxious to address the perennially elusive issue due to a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would give voters control of future gambling decisions, something now largely left up to the Legislature.

“We spent so much time, and rightfully so, on the school-safety legislation, and we found ourselves on a Friday, with a Sunday deadline if we had extended, and the tribe’s not up here,” Galvano said, referring to school-safety legislation stemming from the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Broward County high school.

One of the more pressing issues at hand, was the formation of a new gambling compact between the Florida and the Seminole Tribe. The legal issues at hand have stemmed from the exclusivity aspects of certain card games in exchange for income to the State. The Palm Beach Post continues:

Also, legislators wanted to ensure a steady stream of income from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The money could be in peril after a federal court ruling about controversial “designated player” games at pari-mutuel cardrooms throughout the state. Striking a new deal, called a compact, with the Seminoles, which would be part of any gambling legislation, has proved elusive for legislators.

One of the critical provisions of a 2010 deal between the state and tribe, giving the tribe “exclusivity” over banked card games, such as blackjack, expired in 2015. That spawned a protracted legal battle and previously futile attempts by lawmakers to seal a new agreement. The tribe pays more than $300 million a year under the banked-card games portion of the 2010 agreement.

But the legal battle focused heavily on what are known as “designated player games,” which are played at pari-mutuel facilities. After a federal judge sided with the tribe in a dispute over whether the lucrative designated-player games breached the Seminoles’ exclusivity over offering banked card games, the tribe agreed to continue making payments to the state, and gambling regulators promised to “aggressively enforce” the manner in which cardrooms conduct the designated player games.

While the tribe agreed to temporarily continue paying the state, some lawmakers are eager for the financial certainty a new compact would provide. But Galvano said he has spoken with a representative of the tribe, who assured him that the Seminoles intend to maintain the revenue-sharing agreement with the state. 

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Seminole Compact Deal Seems Unlikely Given Florida Legislators are Shifting Full Focus to the Parkland School Shooting

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to fully renew the Seminole Gambling Compact and officially lock in various gambling exclusivity agreements with the Tribe, the most prominent being designated player card games.  Recent legislation was proposed and pushed that was an attempt to allow exclusive deals for the Seminoles at their casinos, while allowing para-mutuel operators to offer designated player games and even end greyhound racing. The Sun-Sentinel reports:

The Florida Legislature is showing its hand in another attempt to bring the Seminole Tribe into a new, lucrative gambling agreement with the state.

Th new deal would potentially end greyhound racing, bring craps and roulette to Seminole casinos and allow designated-player games.

Under a draft agreement the tribe has shown several state lawmakers, it would now be willing to consider designated-player games and fantasy sports leagues such as FanDuel and DraftKing, both of which it had previously said were in violation of its agreement with the state.

Given the court appointed deadlines and Amendment 3, which seems likely to pass and would take the power away from the legislators and into the hands of the people, this was viewed as the key time to strike a deal. An online source explains:

The first deadline is a 2015 federal court order that allows the Seminoles to stop making $250 million in annual revenue-sharing payments to the state by the end of March if lawmakers don’t curtail the growth of ”designated player” games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack, in cardrooms across Florida. The next comes in November when voters are presented with a proposed “No Casinos” constitutional amendment that would require 60 percent approval of a ballot measure to expand gambling, essentially removing legislators from the decision-making process regarding casinos. Therefore, if lawmakers are to make significant changes to gambling regulations and renew the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, the time to do so is now or, maybe, it will be never.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 90-page gambling bill earlier this week that gives the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s seven casinos the exclusive right to offer craps and roulette while allowing pari-mutuel facilities statewide to run “designated player” card games.

As it turns out, however, the timeline has become even more doubtful given the tragic Parkland school shooting. The Florida legislature is wisely shifting focus to discuss and address potential solutions to help protect Florida families from similar future tragedies. The budget also needs to be passed, so the window for gambling appears to be rapidly closing.   An online source explains: 

The Florida high school shooting that left 17 people dead last week has another potential casualty—the state’s gambling legislation.

Florida Politics reported that Florida’s gambling bill is on life support after legislators decided to shelve all pending bills on their desks in order to prioritize a legislative response to the February 14 mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

With only three weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, legislators are scrambling to enact a law that will allocate $100 million funding for the state’s mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

After passing the bill, lawmakers will then need to squeeze in discussions on the state budget within a limited time. With their hands full, Florida House Speaker-designate José Oliva is much less optimistic that they will get something done on gambling in the next three weeks.

“A lot of our bandwidth is going to be taken up,” Oliva said, according to FloridaPolitics.com. “We still have a budget to pass, and obviously we’ve got some sort of bipartisan bill that we have to pass dealing with the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas.”

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UPDATE: Washington State joins Hawaii in pushing investigation and legislation around gambling-esque loot boxes in video games.

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing revelation that video game publishers are pushing what many have called predatory gambling mechanics into recent video games. These loot boxes that are purchased by a gamer dispense in-game items by chance. The players don’t know what items they are actually purchasing and thus they chase after the change of getting the good loot much like a gambler chases after the right combination in a slot machine. What’s worse, publisher EA used these gambling boxes as the primary way to advance through their latest Star Wars video game, Battlefront 2. Naturally, this not only caught the eye of the media, but Disney themselves had to step in. Then governmental agencies started investigating and expressing concern for such psychologically manipulative mechanisms in video games that are available to children. Chris Lee, a Hawaiian legislature pulled no punches when he categorized the game and loot boxes as simply an Star Wars themed online casino aimed at taking kids money. Apple called for companies to disclose the odds of obtaining various loot in any games sold in there app store, but the industry as a whole decided not to regulate loot boxes through the ESRB system. Given the lack of sell governance, yet another state has pushed forward to investigate the issue. The Rolling Stone reports:

As the debate surrounding loot boxes and microtransactions as a form of gambling targeted at children continues, a new bill proposed in Washington is looking to force the game industry to regulate these mechanics, The News Tribune reports.

Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker introduced a bill this month asking state officials, as well as game developers, to determine once and for all if loot boxes and similar mechanics are specifically designed to prey on children.

“What the bill says is, ‘Industry, state: sit down to figure out the best way to regulate this,’” Ranker told the outlet. “It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something.”

Despite the controversies, the game industry seems to be fully-committed to loot boxes and microtransactions. In a recent industry survey, the Game Developer’s Conference found one in 10 developers plan to implement the mechanics in their next game.

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UPDATE: Despite Florida Supreme Court Ruling, Gadsden Looking to Authorize Slots in North Florida Again

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing saga of a north Florida county attempting to legalize slot machines. Florida law very clearly outlines the jurisdictions of where slot machines and other gambling are legal, and Gadsden county is not one. The issue of voter approved slot machines in not designated areas reached the Florida Supreme Court and they unanimously agreed Florida law prohibited such gambling venues. However, it appears a new bill has been filed to again allow Gadsden County to hold a referendum on authorizing slot machine gambling at the local race track. Florida Politics breaks down the attempted angle they are taking:

A unanimous Florida Supreme Court last year ruled against the track and facilities in seven other counties that previously passed local referendums allowing slots, saying “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.”

The holding was limited to non-charter counties, however. Gadsden does not have a charter but did pass a slots referendum in 2012. Tuesday’s bill responds to the court’s ruling that “the Legislature did not specifically authorize” that referendum.

It would OK the following ballot question: “Shall slot machine gaming be authorized at the pari-mutuel quarter horse racing facility in the City of Gretna?”

The issue was quickly addressed by Executive Direct of Florida group No Casinos, and Paul Seago was very to the point in his opposition:

“First, we think it violates the Florida Constitution, which prohibits expansion of casino gambling without a statewide vote,” he said. “Second, it sets up a violation of the compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe, jeopardizing millions of dollars in revenue.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida enjoys exclusive rights to offers slots outside of South Florida; breaking that exclusivity entitles the Tribe to reduce or stop paying a cut of its gambling revenue to the state.

“Third, any municipality that thinks casino gambling is a key to economic development need look no further than Atlantic City to see the associated crime and social ills that come with it,” Seago added. “For these reasons we will vigorously oppose HB 1111.”

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Florida Bill Seeks to Legalize Daily Fantasy Sports, but Might Violate the Seminole Gambling Compact

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the various attempts at legalization of Daily Fantasy Sports DFS), especially in Florida, a state that has been heavily lobbied due to major DFS companies DraftKings and FanDuel physically residing there. Last January an attempt was made to officially legalize, but it never materialized. New efforts have surfaced and have now passed committee. Florida Politics reports:

A proposal to exempt fantasy sports from state gambling regulation cleared a Senate committee Thursday—but with one notable opponent.

“I don’t think the issues raised are clear,” said Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican and vice-chair of the *Regulated Industries Committee, which handles gambling policy.

Aside from Hukill’s ‘no’ vote, that committee otherwise moved the bill (SB 374) by *Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, on an 8-1 vote. Similar measures (SB 840 223) have been filed for the upcoming Legislative Session.

In the online games, players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.

Asked to clarify her position after the meeting, Hukill said, “Is this a game of skill or not? I don’t think that’s clear, at least for now.”

The issue isn’t as simple as legislation clarifying if it’s a game of skill or change and gambling or simple recreation. There is also the issue of the major gambling compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe. They have issued a letter that clearly outlines they view Fantasy Sports as gambling and in violation of the compact and they have threatened to withhold payments to the state if such gambling expansion is pushed through by the legislature. On online source explains:

In a Tuesday letter to the state officials, the Seminole Tribe made it clear that the regulation of sports contests is to violate the tribe’s exclusive rights and the Seminole is to stop making payments to the state. The letter was signed by the Tribe’s general counsel Jim Shore and addressed to Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Mike La Rosa. The letter points out that the bill is to reduce the Tribe’s exclusivity. Furthermore, it states that the tribe is ready to discuss the issue with the state representatives. According to the letter, the bill is to violate Part XII of the 2010 Gaming Compact between the State and Tribe.

At present, the state reaps more than $200 million per year for granting gambling exclusivity to the tribe. Supposing that the state to tax daily fantasy sports contests, the tribe threatened to cease payments to the state. Industry insiders believe that the tribe’s warnings may change the officials’ stance on the matter and the DFS regulation may hit the rail. This seems to be the likely scenario as Florida is eyeing DFS regulation since 2015. Two years later, the bill is pending a stamp by the local government. 

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