GTA Launches Controversial Diamond Casino
On July 23rd, Grand Theft Auto Online launched its latest and most controversial feature to date. Players now have access to enter the Diamond Casino & Resort, where they can buy chips and play casino games. This has been met with a mixed response, at the same time as loot boxes continue to draw controversy.
Diamond Casino Opens for Business
The Diamond Casino and Resort has been on the GTA map since 2013. Recently it has been developed into a fully playable venue, offering players a range of activities. There are multiple casino games on offer – Roulette, Blackjack, Three Card Poker and Slot machines. These games are played against the house rather than other online users. There are also two types of horse track races – the Inside Track and the Main Event. The Lucky Wheel allows players to spin for a chance at winning exclusive rewards every day. There are also two exclusive Degenatron arcade games to play in the resort’s Penthouse.
Players can choose from two types of memberships. There is a Standard Membership and a VIP Membership. Standard Membership costs $500 in-game currency and provides players with 5,000 chips as a welcome bonus. Players can also gain access to services, such as car valets and activities in the Casino. Standard members receive 1,000 chips a day free. More serious players can opt for VIP Membership. This gives players access to Penthouse suites, high stakes casino games and unlocks new missions. VIP Membership is granted by buying a Penthouse.
The main aim of the games in the Diamond Casino is to earn more chips. Casino chips can be exchanged for prestige items in the Casino Store. Players can choose from artwork to decorate their Penthouse or fashionable clothing and accessories. Rather like loot box skins in games like Overwatch and Fortnite, the idea is to stand out from the crowd. GTA is most famous for its cars though, and here is no exception. Spinning the Lucky Wheel and completing missions can win luxury sports cars.
Players can buy a maximum of 50,000 chips in each in-game day. A day in-game lasts 48 minutes and each chip is worth $1 in game. A GTA $1 does not have equal value to a real life dollar. $50,000 in GTA chips translates to roughly $1.50 in US currency. This means that $45 can be spent in 24 hours – provided the user is playing consistently for the duration of that time.
Rockstar’s move to introduce an online casino in Grand Theft Auto is bold. Video Game Loot Boxes have been hitting the headlines recently over concerns that they lead to problem gambling in children. At first glance it seems ill advised for Rockstar to launch the Diamond Casino in the midst of all of this controversy. But does the Diamond Casino deserve criticism?
At the heart of this issue are loot boxes. But what is a loot box? A loot box is simply a box containing hidden contents that players can buy. Without knowing what the contents will be, players can find themselves purchasing many loot boxes in search of a particular prize. Contents are typically avatar skins, weapons and armour. Loot boxes are randomized, so there really is no telling what the player will get. In some games, loot boxes are a bonus, but not essential to progress in the game. Other games, more controversially, require loot boxes to be collected to access certain characters or gain 100% completion in the game. For children, the sense of urgency and high cost of loot boxes is a problem.
As part of a new initiative from the Entertainment Software Association, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have all agreed to disclose the drop rates of their loot boxes. This means that players will be able to clearly see what the odds of getting particular items from loot boxes are. This is targeted to come into effect in 2020.
There is clear evidence that actions such as these need to take place. The NHS recently opened the first gambling clinic for children in response alarming figures released by the UK Gambling Commission. Gambling now tops alcohol, cigarettes and drugs in terms of childhood participation. There are 55,000 children in the UK who are known to have a gambling problem. Loot boxes are a significant issue but do not constitute the only cause. Advertising online and on TV contributes, as do the increasing number of online gaming sites.
A Smart Move?
Rockstar have certainly sparked controversy by adding a functioning casino to GTA Online. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the introduction of GTA’s Online Casino is going to have a negative impact on children. There are some important facts to clarify which go some way to explain why this is not strictly true.
GTA 5 carries a PEGI rating of 18 years or older. That applies to GTA Online too. The game contains sexual references, drug and alcohol use as well as violence. It is not suitable for young children to play.
Secondly, The Diamond Casino in GTA Online does not contain pay-to-win loot boxes. Winning casino games don’t provide any necessary advantage other than winning chips that can be spent in-game. These chips can be spent in the Casino store on fashionable items, comparable to skins the can be won in loot box games. Players might aspire towards winning enough chips to buy in-game clothes and artwork to impress their online friends. However, caps on transactions are there to prevent excessive casino play and problem spending. Compared to the high costs of loot boxes in other games, the cost of buying GTA casino chips is low. They cannot be purchased in large bulk either, which helps to keep costs from spiralling.
Many headlines report that the GTA Online Casino lets players spend cash on casino chips. This is not 100% accurate. Players can spend real money on Shark Cards, which contain virtual GTA money. These in-game purchases are not necessary to play, as money can be earned from completing missions and heists. Players who purchase Shark Cards tend to do so in order to purchase certain cars, but the advantages are primarily aesthetic. Chips cannot be bought with Shark Cards. In order for real money to be spent on casino chips, it would in effect have to be ‘laundered’ through the game – from real currency to GTA currency to chips.
The GTA Diamond Casino is not available to all players. Over 50 countries worldwide, where gambling is illegal, have blocked players’ access to the Diamond Casino. There is a high level of sensitivity in terms of what constitutes gambling in video games. While the Diamond Casino is not necessarily a moneymaker, it does fulfil the very basic criteria of gambling – Money is spent on games of chance in the hopes of winning.
Rockstar has rocked the boat by finally letting players into the Diamond Casino. At present, the gambling features in the casino serve generally as an Easter egg feature – something that Rockstar has a reputation for. The low limits of the casino games mean that they are unlikely to make players rich. The Diamond Casino’s objective, like the rest of the game, is to entertain. It is a publicity stunt, but one that also initiates an important conversation on the state of gambling in video games today.