770. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice if her attention has been drawn to the banning of loot boxes in a video game (details supplied) in Belgium, Holland and Switzerland due to the introduction of gambling to young children and the misconduct of employees of a company in unfairly distributing such loot boxes; if she has considered implementing such a ban; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16718/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy James Browne): In accordance with my Justice Plan 2021, work is underway on the establishment of a gambling regulator focused on public safety and wellbeing, covering gambling online and in person, and the powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps.
The only current legislation providing for online gambling is contained in the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015, which permits the licensing by the Revenue Commissioners of remote bookmakers and betting exchanges. The role of my Department is limited to the processing of certificates of fitness for applicants for such licences. There is no current legislation with regard to online video gaming engaged in by individuals. However, I am aware that there has been some attention on issues arising in the context of video gaming. In particular, whether in-game purchases or micro-transactions, described as "loot boxes", "skins" etc., designed to improve the players’ chances of success in inter-active online games, might encourage gambling like behaviour.
Ireland supported the 2018 Declaration by the Gaming Regulators European Forum that video gaming products should be licensed and regulated appropriately, if they can be shown to fall into the category of gambling. In preparing the declaration, member states were aware of reports that third party actors, not authorised by the video game developer or under their control, may seek to commercialise certain elements of video gaming in a manner akin to gambling. The issue is whether such micro-transactions constitute gambling or are a form of e-commerce. It is not clear that these offers fall within the current Irish legal definition of gambling or that purchases are essentially an e-commerce activity.
With regard to protection of children and age limits for video games, the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system was established in 2003 to help European parents make informed decisions on buying computer games. It replaced a number of national age rating systems with a single system now used throughout most of Europe, in more than 35 countries including Ireland. However, ‘gambling’, for the purposes of PEGI video game rating, is based on whether there are depictions of gambling in the game that can be found in real life, e.g. casino type games. It is not clear that PEGI (which is a voluntary code of the industry, rather than state mandated) could or would put such gambling related warnings on games containing Loot Boxes as these are discretionary purchases by the player. I encourage parents to ensure that their children only engage in appropriate gaming and are not making purchases unknown to them.
Different approaches have been adopted to the issue of whether and how "loot boxes" might be defined and regulated in the context of gambling activities in Europe, with no definitive outcomes. This matter is one which my Department and ultimately the new Gambling Regulator will keep under review.