Grand Theft Auto Launches In-Game Casino, But Unavailable in Over 50 Countries

The hazy intersection between online gaming and online gambling is again in the news following the release of the latest update for the venerable Grand Theft Auto franchise, Diamond Casino. Some previous GTA releases have included in-game gambling elements, but with the July 23 drop of GTA: Diamond Casino & Resort, the gambling itself is the featured element. While enthusiastically embraced by GTA players, the Diamond Casino offerings have already been withheld by GTA parent Rockstar from over 50 countries around the globe. And, given GTA’s enduring popularity, it’s a sure bet that this latest update will put the company and the game under the microscope of dozens more regulatory jurisdictions as well.

As with the ongoing controversies in recent years involving loot boxes and “free-to-play” (except not really) online social casinos, the in-game gambling opportunities from GTA and other games are all about maximizing revenue and implementing the games’ internal currencies as a value-holding vehicle for the gambling activity. All these firms shy away from the term “monetary” when discussing in-game currencies, but if prizes are available — and they appear to be so in GTA’s Diamond Casino update — then you have consideration, which means the wagering of something of value for something else of perceived value.

Even dicier is the fact that games such as GTA don’t come with the same sort of strict age restrictions that define more traditional forms of gambling. Even if a game such as GTA is rated “Mature”, it’s very often purchased for underage gamers by well-meaning but not-quite-clued-in parents, who by funding their child’s account for in-game add-ons, have just inadvertently opened the door for the kid do some virtually gambling as well. Some parents are okay with that; a lot of others aren’t.

The thing is — and no matter how hard gaming companies try to disguise the reality of it — it’s nothing new. In fact, the release of GTA’s Diamond Casino update lags by roughly 12 years the first time that an in-game casino became a big enough deal to draw attention from authorities. Back in 2007, Minden Lab’s Second Life was forced to self-ban similar virtual casino offerings under duress from the US’s Department of Justice and similar agencies in other countries. Second Life’s in-game casinos were all the rage, and has happened with these faux-gambling offerings, that inner gambling activity was actually the game’s primary revenue generator for its developers.

That’s how strong the allure is. Even companies that have already been burned don’t seem to be able to stay away from such a compelling revenue stream. Minden Lab, for instance, has brought back casinos inside Second Life, but they only offer “skill-based games. (If you’re a regular Flushdraw reader, you can fill in the blank on that one.)

Returning, though, to Rockstar and this latest GTA Diamond Casino release, if the company is already self-banning from over 50 countries, isn’t that a tacit admission that this is indeed gambling? That seems evident from this viewpoint, but our viewpoints aren’t the ones that will ultimately decide this market and legal gaming issue.

If you’re curious about which countries can’t play GTA Diamond Casino, a user over at PlayStationLifeStyle has already compiled a convenient list, which includes: Afghanistan, Algeria. American Samoa, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus, Brunei, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Greece, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania. Malta, Malaysia, Montenegro, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, and Venezuela.

If you’re noticing that a lot of those are countries where gambling in general is officially taboo, well, that’s exactly the point. And as a sidebar thread, user reports suggest that GTA players from these countries are already employing VPNs and other mechanisms to keep right on playing… and gambling.

There’s an indication that GTA parent RockStar may have gone a step or two too far with this release. It may take a few week or months for official jurisdictional pushback to occur, but this is likely to rival the loot-box battle sometime down the road. Stay tuned.

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