Grand Theft Auto V will introduce a casino feature to its online mode later this year in a move which could draw the attention of gambling regulators.
Rockstar Games, the developer of GTA, made the announcement via a tweet on 13th June. A casino building has been present in the game ever since its release in 2013, however, it was not accessible to players and an “opening soon” sign was present until earlier this month. It has now been confirmed that this feature, long called for by GTA fans, is finally on the horizon.
While this is exciting news for many GTA players, the move is expected to draw the attention of gambling regulators, with the links between video games and gambling falling under scrutiny in recent times. One particular feature of many video games that has been criticised is loot boxes, which allow players to pay real money in exchange for randomly generated in-game items. These have been accused of encouraging gambling-like tendencies in both adult players and children.
Belgium and the Netherlands have both enforced loot box bans, while a bill that would see them banned has also recently been proposed in the US. GambleAware, the UK’s leading gambling charity, has said that loot boxes “may be normalising gambling for children”, while the UK Gambling Commission has spoken of how “the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred.”
While Rockstar’s initial tweet revealed very few details, the developer has since provided more information. GTA V’s Diamond Casino & Resort, which will “open its doors this summer”, will offer the players “the exhilaration of spinning the Lucky Wheel for a chance at life-changing prizes” and “a range of sophisticated table games”. There is also speculation that a horse racing feature could be introduced, seeing as the casino is attached to the Vinewood Racetrack.
Red Dead Redemption, another game developed by Rockstar, already allows players to play poker in multiplayer mode, although this doesn’t involve any real money transactions. Despite this, the poker feature is not available to players in some countries where online gambling is restricted or illegal.
Whereas currency in Red Dead Redemption has to be acquired in-game, GTA allows players to directly purchase virtual currency using real money. Players cannot currently withdraw funds from their game accounts, but whether the casino will allow players to gamble virtual currency purchased with real money remains to be seen.
EA, the developer of FIFA, used the fact that virtual currency and items can’t be withdrawn or sold for real money as one of the main points of its defence against Belgium’s loot box ruling. However, it eventually backed down when Belgian regulators rejected this argument. This indicates that, if GTA players can gamble virtual currency brought with real money, the feature could still be subject to regulation despite the fact that the currency can’t be withdrawn or sold.
Online gambling is largely illegal in the US and strictly regulated in many other countries, so any links between the casino feature and real money transactions would risk potential regulation. However, it’s believed the Rockstar has spent some time developing the casino feature, so it’s thought to be unlikely that it would make an addition so open to censorship from gambling regulators.
Even if the casino feature has no ties to real money transactions, Rockstar risks coming under criticism for encouraging gambling in general. The GTA series, which is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, is no stranger to controversy and has previously been criticised for its depiction of violence.
Ultimately, the potential ramifications won’t become clear until Rockstar releases more details. What’s certain, however, is that the casino feature will be under close scrutiny when it does finally launch.