Posted by Woods Whur | Alcohol, Gambling, Licensing Law

The action-adventure video game, Grand Theft Auto, has recently made headlines for allowing its players to spend real money on gambling chips that can then be used in its new in-game casino, the Diamond Casino and Resort.

Whilst the players cannot directly buy the gambling chips, they can buy the in-game currency and with that, purchase the gambling chips. The in-game casino offers poker, slot machines, blackjack, video horseracing and roulette.

It does not appear that Grand Theft Auto had alerted players to this function, instead players have discovered the in-game facility and spread the word. It was originally thought that the only way players would be able to purchase chips would be by ‘earning’ them through playing the game, rather than being able to purchase them. It has also been reported that in countries where gambling is illegal, whilst they could enter the casino area, the ability to attend the gambling tables themselves has been blocked.

The question being asked is whether or not in-game gambling is the same as real life gambling – and whether the dangers are as real. Issues of social responsibility also arise, particularly as whilst the game is rated for ages 18 and above, it is extremely popular amongst teens. The fact that some countries have taken the stand that in-game is on a par with real life gambling, and have therefore banned the in-game function, makes this question extremely interesting.

Not being able to convert the chips back into real cash may be the only saving grace for Grand Theft Auto. At the moment, these kinds of in game purchases are not regulated as there is no way to make any real life gains on them.

The problem still stands – is this a “gateway” to real life gambling? After all, it must be possible, and consequently a risk, for the act of betting and winning online for no reward in a game to lead to betting and winning online for a real reward in real life.

Questions of money laundering must also be raised. If the game encourages players to invest in art as a way to launder money, who’s to say they won’t be encouraged to use the casino for the same purpose? Where does the gaming end and the reality begin? This will certainly be a topic to watch as the influx of virtual reality gaming is becoming increasingly popular in the gaming market.