Grand Theft Auto’s New In-Game Casino Runs Into Trouble

 

When Rockstar Games launched the highly-anticipated Diamond Casino in their hit game ‘Grand Theft Auto V,’ they were hoping to breathe new life into their five-year-old classic. The R-rated release is believed to have made more profit than any other entertainment product ever released – including all books and films – but it’s beginning to show its age when compared to more recent releases. As Rockstar has no intention of releasing a new ‘Grand Theft Auto’ game until the next generation of consoles arrives next year, it was hoped that a final expansion of their current offering would give players enough to chew on until that day came. 

Initial response to the release of the casino element of the game has been positive – in the locations where it’s available. Regrettably, from Rockstar’s point of view, it doesn’t seem to be available in as many places as they’d have liked it to be. 

When Is Gambling Gambling? 

As the time of writing, there are fifty countries which have blocked access to the casino within the game, thereby causing a logistical nightmare for Rockstar. There reasoning for doing so is that they feel the casino constitutes ‘online gambling.’ From Rockstar’s perspective, money won within the virtual casino can’t be withdrawn and turned into real money, and so the law shouldn’t apply. The countries who object feel that as players can purchase poker chips for the casino with real money – even if they can’t withdraw it afterward – it constitutes a real bet. 

While it might cause difficulties to Rockstar in terms of having to ensure that people from certain countries only gin access to certain parts of the game, it’s not thought that they’ll be badly affected financially. Major markets like the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the majority of Western European nations don’t have prohibitive laws on online gambling, and so haven’t implemented bans. Japan, which is arguably the next largest market, is yet to do so either. As the bulk of players likely to spend real money on virtual casino chips live within those areas, Rockstar’s profits will likely still shoot up following the digital venue’s launch. 

From anecdotal reports on Reddit, it seems that players using a VPN from within the affected countries can circumvent the ban and gain access, but that may cause Rockstar more problems than it solves. Should the states who have implemented the ban decide that there’s no way of limiting the access their citizens have to the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ casino, they may simply decide to cut off access to the online portion of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ altogether, or ban the game outright. 

Lapses In The Law?

As well as causing problems for Rockstar and their most popular game, developments like ‘real’ casinos inside popular video games are beginning to cause headaches for lawmakers in countries where casinos are banned. Within the list of fifty countries are nations who have specific laws against any form of gambling. Should the idea become popular (and it may – there are forms of playable gambling in Rockstar’s other popular title ‘Red Dead Redemption’ too), it may be the case that either a new definition of gambling has to be drawn up, or laws will have to be rewritten to take into account virtual gaming. 

The law is even more confusing in countries where gambling is technically legal but somewhat restricted, such as South Africa. South Africa permits gambling, and hosts numerous casinos, but denies its citizens the right to gamble online or on mobile slots through their phones. As UK mobile slots are capturing an increasing share of the market with each passing month, their position looks untenable. As the law stands, a citizen could be prosecuted for spending their money on mobile slots. If, however, they went to an ATM, withdrew the money and spent it on physical slots inside a casino, no offense would have been committed. As the cabinets in casinos often provide access to the same mobile slots someone can play through their phone, the law appears to make no sense. The country may even be aware of this – almost nobody in South Africa has ever been prosecuted for playing mobile slots. 

Even though they permit physical gambling and don’t tend to prosecute those who break online gambling laws, South Africa is one of the fifty countries currently blocking access to the Grand Theft Auto casino. In positions like these, it might merely be the case that existing laws simply weren’t designed to deal with the concept of gambling through phones, the internet, or video games, and therefore new legislation will have to be written. 

Mixed Morality

Even allowing for vagaries in the law between different nations, to an outsider it seems bizarre that of all the activities that players can perform while playing ‘Grand Theft Auto V,’ it’s gambling which has resulted in digital prohibition. In the dark and gritty world of ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ characters routinely drink heavily, take drugs, steal cars, commit murder and undertake even more criminal activities which would usually merit a much more severe penalty than gambling. It seems nonsensical to allow citizens to carry out a virtual murder after stealing a virtual car, but not to play with virtual chips at a virtual casino. 

As video games become more advanced, and better technology makes the line between reality and digital entertainment ever more blurred, debates like these are likely to arise more in the future. As an example, if someone in South Africa put on a virtual reality headset and took their place at a casino table surrounded by other real players (all of whom were wearing headsets of their own, would they be gambling online or offline? Who would be qualified to make that call? Would interacting through a real-life card dealer through a video screen be more ‘legal’ than dealing with an animated one, or would it still be considered to be online gambling unless you were physically sat in that dealer’s presence? 

We don’t have the answers, but someone will have to come up with them soon. In the meantime, Rockstar will be busy trying to persuade sovereign nations to allow their citizens access to a fake casino. 

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