Why the GTA 5 online casino is incredibly alarming and sets a worrying precedent

The highly requested GTA5 casino that just hit GTA Online is diving head-first into controversy. Gambling in gaming has been a touchstone of motherly concern since microtransactions have infected most AAA games. Realistically, in-game gambling of one kind of another has been around for a long, long time and can serve as a welcome break from the rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ action of the main plot without any actual gambling. It’s quite rare to find a video game without some element of gambling on offer, and this update for GTA Online has that as a core feature. Gambling without stakes is fine in most situations but when it’s an actual in-game casino, it’s a little more on the nose. And the Grand Theft Auto 5 Diamond Casino and Resort isn’t just on the nose but it also seriously raises plenty of concerns around the ethics or lack thereof in video game microtransactions in a way that goes beyond the comparative simplicity of loot boxes.

The GTA 5 casino is just literal gambling with real money

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By now, you may have seen that the ever-expanding world of GTA Online has been updated to include a revamped Diamond Casino and Resort. This is on the lot of a previously unusable casino that has been there since the very start of the game. You can enter the refurbished building and play poker, blackjack, roulette, or the slots. For $500 of paid in-game currency, you have a basic entry to the casino and a starting fund of chips. You can buy more for a sliding scale of prices, but if you’re canny and Lady Luck is on your side, it’s possible to win big. The chips can’t technically be bought with real money, but you can buy Shark Cards on your system’s marketplace and buy more chips. And, since this is a video game, you obviously can’t even cash out and earn real money. You can enter the casino on a more platinum plan if you have access to Twitch Prime, but on the gambling floor, all players are made equal, and the filthy lucre is up for grabs.

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No one is saying that GTA Online is as wholesome as The Legend of Zelda even if you can’t bring weapons into the casino premises. But this aside, in-game gambling is a hot topic, particularly in a game like this one. It’s already easy to sink hours and hours into the game just fulfilling missions and pottering around the city. A casino holds a little more baggage as a time sink because of the real world damage it could do to people. If you have an addictive personality (and let’s face it, many players do), then the urge to sink hours and have your avatar win big at the slots is real and present. An alarming number of people gravitate towards gambling addiction, and until now, GTA has been a gambling-free zone.

The GTA Online casinos are worse than loot boxes

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The encroachment of gambling into video games has been well-documented in the media. Loot boxes exploded in popularity around Overwatch‘s 2016 launch, which caused some crackdowns as parents of vulnerable and youthful gamers began to chime in and politicians intervened. Since then, the gray areas around what constitutes gambling has been locked down with greater clarity. It’s not altogether surprising that the merest mention of gambling would have people fearing the worst. This is true of the reception to Rockstar’s new venture as the juxtaposition of these mechanics on a casino over a crate of costumes is far more worrying.

The GTA Online Diamond Casino and Resort update follows Red Dead Redemption Online. This also included gambling sequences and mini-games. Similarly to GTA Online, it is possible to use real-world money to buy in-game currency — taking the form of gold bars in Red Dead — but it is still formally impossible to cash out any earnings back into real-world money. Much like in GTA Online, international regulation stepped in to cast aspersions over the legality of the gambling element, despite this. The casino in GTA is inaccessible in up to 50 countries, for contravening local gambling regulation and making the update unworkable for many players in more politically conservative zones.

Video game gambling is the craps

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It’s not all about the money; it’s about the mentality. The internet is full of online gambling facilities. If you’re looking to make some dough (or more likely, lose your shirt), it’s only a Google search away. Despite attempts and adamant discourse from Rockstar the age limit of GTA is always going to be bent. It’s quite conceivable that players are entering the casino and having a go on the tables without having reached the legal age necessary in their own regions. And Rockstar knows that and the audacity to put something like this in the game is remarkable.

Digital murdering sprees are just part of the GTA brand at this point and the extremity of violence would make it easy for something as “innocent” as a casino pass right under the radar. But gambling strikes a nerve because of how easily it translates to the real world in a way that video game homicidal rampages don’t. The introduction of a gambling venue might be seen as too enticing to the youthful population of Los Santos whether they are allowed to be there or not along with those with addictive behavior.

The gambling mechanic either appeals to you or it doesn’t. Maybe you suffered through every Gwent match in The Witcher 3. Maybe you couldn’t wait to try out your digital poker face in Red Dead Redemption Online. If gambling (even for virtual money) is your thing, you will probably enjoy this update. If you struggle with issues around money and control, this update isn’t going to do your head any favors and is quite exploitative, given how easy it is to flush your money like real gambling. Microtransactions have taken quite the beating over the past years but stayed the slightest distance away from gambling. Now the veil is off and it’s just brazen gambling in a casino where you can spend real money after a few steps. It almost makes Star Wars Battlefront 2‘s loot boxes seem quaint.