The launch of GTA Online’s Diamond Casino & Resort set record high player numbers for Grand Theft Auto 5’s online mode. The GTA Online Diamond Casino launch marked the biggest day and biggest week for the service in terms of player numbers.
The news comes via an exclusive report from The Hollywood Reporter. According to the report, the event was GTA Online’s biggest since its October 2013 launch, though Rockstar did not provide the publication with specific numbers. We learned in May that GTA 5 was nearing 110 million lifetime unit sales, further cementing the title as the most successful entertainment product of all time. According to The Hollywood Reporter, an in-game census in 2014 showed that GTA Online had more than 33 million active players, so we at least know the GTA Online Diamond Casino launch brought the number above that mark.
The GTA Online Diamond Casino has created a decent amount of controversy since its July 23 “grand re-opening.” The casino had been a landmark in the GTA Online world for many years, but it was never functional until a free update last week. The update added new story quests and housing options for players to try out, but it most significantly added several casino games that allow players to bet, win, and lose in-game currency as they would in a real-world casino. The controversy comes from the fact that GTA Online’s in-game currency can be purchased via Shark Cards (essentially gift cards stocked with in-game currency) with real-world money, so players could end up running out of in-game currency in the casino and spending real-world money to get more. This has led some to find the casino incredibly alarming, and Forbes reports that more than 50 countries have banned gambling in the GTA casino.
The discussion around GTA Online’s Diamond Casino mirrors the larger industry debate about the ethics of loot boxes in video games. Governments around the world have even been discussing how to regulate loot boxes in recent years: A U.S. Senator recently proposed a bill to ban loot boxes, while the French government recently ruled that loot boxes are not an illegal form of gambling. The Diamond Casino is perhaps a more directly gambling-like mechanic than loot boxes, though its classification as gambling is shaky due to the fact that players can’t cash-out their in-game tokens to get real-world money back — for better or worse.