GTA Online’s Casino is Video Game 'Gambling' Done Correctly

GTA Online’s Casino is Video Game 'Gambling' Done Correctly

The much-awaited Grand Theft Auto Online casino was unleashed last week, and instantly became the maypole of video game controversy.

Yes, developer Rockstar Games included the ability for users to play casino games, including slot machines, virtual horse races, three-card poker, roulette and blackjack. Not against other players, however. Every game is played against the house.

Players can purchase up to 50,000 in-game chips each in-game day, worth 50,000 in-game dollars. In the world of GTA, 50,000 is a very small amount, and one can buy 100,000 GTA dollars for $2.99. To simplify: Players can spend $1.50 every in-game day at the casino. We’ll dig into the numbers more below.

Naturally, it has come in conflict with various gambling laws. Forbes confirmed the gambling function was disabled in several countries, referencing a Reddit post that listed more than 50 affected countries.

In the age of video game loot boxes and microtransactions, developer Rockstar’s decision to release a straight-up casino is a bold move. Amid the ongoing controversy of video game loot boxes, Rockstar might just be going about the issue of video game “gambling” the right way.

The Controversy With Video Game Loot Boxes

The whole controversy with so-called “loot boxes” is that they can be purchased for real money but contents are randomized, and – depending on the game – could contain anything from a hat for a character to a game-changing weapon. They all contain a “reward,” but some are better than others.

There have been recent studies that examined if there was a correlation between loot boxes andproblem gambling, including a recently published study by The Royal Society, a UK-based science journal. The study was crystal clear about its findings:

“There is one clear conclusion that can be drawn from these results: When video game companies allow adolescents to buy loot boxes, they are potentially exposing them to negative consequences.”

The Royal Society study concludes that “the risks associated with them (loot boxes) are worryingly high” and could lead to problem gambling. However, the UK Gambling Commission recently reiterated its stance that loot boxes are “not gambling.”

That belief is not universal. Belgium determined in April 2018 that loot boxes do fall under gambling laws, and required all developers with them to change their systems or face legal actions. The discussion in the U.S. is ongoing, with a bill introduced in Congress to make loot boxes fall under gambling laws.

Rockstar’s GTA Casino vs Loot Boxes

So what’s the difference between Rockstar’s Casino and other loot boxes?

Some games, such as Overwatch, only offer cosmetic changes in their loot boxes, and no actual game advantage can be gained from purchasing one.

However, other games, such as developer EA's Star Wars Battlefront II and FIFA, could provide the player with massive advantages if the randomized contents fall just right. In fact, most sports games developed by EA contain a game mode called “Ultimate Team” that is almost entirely built off loot boxes.

The pay-to-win mentality of these loot boxes has been roundly criticized by players of many games, and naturally, it was EA that raised the biggest fuss among developers. Despite being told by Belgium officials to make changes to their games in April 2018, EA only removed the ability for players to purchase loot boxes for real money from their FIFA titles in the country in January 2019, four months after the country initiated court proceedings against the company.

The pay-to-win system simply doesn’t exist in GTA Online’s casino. Players could absolutely buy several million worth of in-game currency, but it would provide no major advantage in the casino, though players can use casino winnings elsewhere within the game.

Extended GTA Online Math

We already discussed how players are only able to spend $1.50 every in-game day. An in-game day is 48 minutes long, so players will see 30 in-game days every real-life 24 hours. Should a player be playing for 24 hours straight, they could theoretically lose 1,500,000 worth of in-game money.

Should a player buy currency at the lowest price available (and most expensive exchange rate), they could lose $45 of real money every real day. In comparison, in FIFA, a player could buy $40 of FIFA points and use it on a single loot box that’s only guaranteed to contain average players.

Short of hitting the jackpot on a slot machine, the low limits of the GTA casino mean it’s difficult to make any significant money at any great speed, especially because everything is against the house. There’s no way to play other players in poker and take them for millions (yet).

Of course, some dedicated players have reported blowing through their entire stacks of chips quickly. However, as Polygon reports, “they mostly seem to mean it in a positive way. For GTA Online, the ease of entry is a change of pace: Generally, fans complain that it takes a lot of money or time to enjoy new additions to the game.”

Could the casino be a sort of Trojan Horse for more gambling? It’s entirely possible. However, there’s no word if Rockstar is pursuing gambling licenses in any countries, and the limits imposed on the casino seem to indicate that gambling is there more for entertainment.

Essentially, Rockstar released a fun little diversion into their massive game world, one that people are unlikely to dump hundreds and hundreds of dollars into, and one that’s not designed to suck money (they offer you 1,000 free chips each in-game day).

It’s the quintessential Rockstar penchant for mocking current events. While other developers are coming up with more and more creative ways to hide the fact players are playing a game of chance for in-game prizes, Rockstar responded with a straight-up casino that won’t cost players a dime.

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