Finland launches investigation into loot boxes and videogame gambling

Less than a week after EA announced they was going to go to court against the Belgian government over loot boxes and local gambling laws, Finland has announced that it is beginning their own investigation into loot boxes and whether or not they qualify as unlicensed gambling. Finland will be the fourth country in the EU to do this, after The Netherlands and Belgium both finalised their investigations earlier this year, and as Germany’s Commission of Youth Protection conceded that they were indeed gambling mechanics, but was powerless to impact the market.

According to a report on Nyt, a citizen in Finland lodged an inquiry with the Southwest Finland Police Department requesting that an investigation be done into the issue because it could violate local gambling laws. Specifically, a request was made to ask the Finland Lottery Administration (a wing of the police in Finland) whether loot boxes in their current format in shipping video games constituted gambling.

According to Finnish law, “a lottery means an activity in which participants may win, in full or in part, a prize of monetary value based on chance and in which there is a charge for participation”. This is quite similar to Belgium’s laws regarding games of chance, and it’s also similar to The Netherlands in that it specifically makes reference to a lottery. The definition is wide and open to interpretation, which is done by design to allow the commission to use the existing laws to address new forms of gambling that may be invented.

Recently the Finland Lottery Administration concluded their own preliminary investigation into loot boxes, and announced in a press release that “certain features of a video game containing loot boxes seem to meet the lottery definition”. Mikko Cantell, senior office in the Finland Police Department, headed the investigation and told the media that it was needed “to form a more accurate view of loot boxes and how they relate to the Lotteries Act.” Cantell urged parents to pay close attention to the games their children were playing.

In the same way that companies reacted to the ruling from The Netherlands, it would be enough to comply with local laws by disabling trading of items acquired from a loot box. Because the emphasis is on monetary gain and not physical or virtual goods, this would give companies like Valve and EA the ability to still sell their loot boxes in shipping titles – Ultimate Team card packs would still get sold.

However, section 2 of the Lotteries Act in Finland says that the act also applies “to running casino activities and keeping casino games, slot machines, non-money prize machines and other game machines and game equipment available for public use against a charge where players are able to win a prize of monetary value”. If a case ever gets to court over this, it’s likely it won’t be required to prove that loot boxes aren’t meeting the definition of gambling. It might just be enough to adjust the definition of a non-money prize machine to modernise it.

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