Academics and addiction experts weigh in on ‘pay-to-loot’ gambleboxes and lockboxes:

“Pay-to-win” is old news now — game designers’ new plan for hoovering all the cash out of our wallets is “pay-to-loot.”

According to IGN’s Nathan Lawrence, who dives into the topic today, that’s the term game psychologists are using to describe what online gamers have been derisively referring to as gambleboxes and lockboxes for years: You’re essentially buying chances at a thing, paying to roll the dice and let the RNG gods determine your reward, padding the game’s coffers all the while.

The gambling references aren’t accidental; one expert calls lootboxes a “poker machine-like experience,” while another points to the phenomenon as an exploitation of human nature:

“A lot of research shows that fixed rewards are not as effective for getting people to change behaviours, learn a new behaviour, or form a habit as random rewards are. Our brains are wired to try to make sense of unexpected things. When you have a random number determining what loot you get, by definition, you’re going to get an unexpected result, or an unexpected predictable result every time. Whether you get that by playing the game for so many hours or winning so many matches, or whether you get a roll of that random number generator from spending five dollars to buy a pack of cards or a loot chest, it’s still the same rush, the same experience, the same hopeful anticipation to try and figure out, ‘Well, did I figure it out this time?’ Even though, in the front part of your brain – in the rational slow-moving part of your brain – you know that it’s completely random and, no, you haven’t cracked the code or figured it out. But those circuits are hardwired in our brain, and they’re very effective and very powerful.”

The same psychologist argues for more transparency from developers, too, but we all know it’s the rare studio that will undertake transparency of its own volition while the money’s easy.

Please stop buying lockboxes.

Source: IGN
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63 Comments on "Academics and addiction experts weigh in on ‘pay-to-loot’ gambleboxes and lockboxes:"

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shazanti
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shazanti

I don’t buy lockboxes. I would rather outright gamble at a casino… because at least on the exceedingly rare occasions when I go to a casino, I bring x amount of money that I fully expect to lose, and I just plan out how to lose it, and hope that I lose it over a long enough period of time that I can consider it ‘entertainment money’ for the evening. With a lockbox, there is no evening’s worth of entertainment. There’s buy box, open box. No time spent having fun with my friends and other players, no entertainment at the table having fun with the dealers (who are also, I hope, having fun with myself & other friendly players who are hopefully tipping them enough to fill their toke box).

Maybe, MAYBE, I actually win, or break even at the casino, but I never expect to- that’s just asking for disappointment. I will not subject myself to that disappointment by dumping money into faceless instant interaction with a lockbox. I don’t even like it when games give free boxes of random stuff to me as a player. I would much rather know that x amount of time spent, y amount of levels gained, z quest/achievement completed, etc., gains me specific (or my choice of) x,y,z reward. A random, low chance at an actual reward? No thanks. That feels more like disdain for players than anything else, to me, and is only worthy of my disdain in return.

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rafael12104

The psychologists are weighing in… ok. But according to psychologists, video games themselves are an addiction and just as devastating, right?

So, where do you draw the line? I’m not a fan of lock boxes. I avoid them. The games I play games have them, but I make sure they are not a requirement. And this very scenario played out in SWTOR just recently. SWTOR devs stupidly changed Op boss drops to lockboxes if you can believe it. But guess what? They changed it back to gear drops fairly quickly because they were bleeding subs.

I guess my point is that choice, your choice, matters. If you choose not to buy or use lockboxes it matters. But that choice should remain an individual one. It is a slippery slope otherwise and the conversation may turn from lock boxes to video games in a heart beat.

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Kevin McCaughey

People are stupid.

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Serrenity

I’m happy to say that I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a lockbox. Guild Wars 2 might be an exception (but it would just been once). The economics of lock boxes, combined with complete lack of transparency on odds (and whether those odds are static or adjust) means that I won’t touch the stuff.

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Zen Dadaist

“Please stop buying lockboxes.”

QFT. Sadly, dev studio after dev studio has explained that lockboxes make absolute bank. They make way WAY more money off people by putting the cool thing in a box with a 0.01% of winning it, than selling the cool thing directly. People are more willing to throw what ends up being A HELL OF A LOT more money after boxes in the hopes of winning the thing, than just buying it.

People are stupid. Screw RNG in your RNG.

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Chuck Finley

I just wish I could enjoy the game and earn said item in the game, which isn’t really an option for the most part.

It’s the biggest failing with ESO in my opinion. All those mounts and pets I would like to collect since I’m a collector of things, but they’re not available to me unless I either buy a loot box (special seasonal mounts) or buy them directly (standard pets and mounts).

It’s really just a shitty experience in my opinion that drives me away from the game a bit. The whole point of the game is to have fun and earn items, but I have to buy these mounts and have no way of earning them. A purchased mount or pet means nothing to me. There was no challenge to get it, no adventure. Either I bought it directly or got lucky with a lootbox. It’s an experience completely set aside from the game itself.

I think it sucks for people who enjoy playing games. I feel the rewards in the game itself aren’t really as nice as the ones you can buy. And I can afford to buy it, but that’s just not fun to me. :/

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Dean Greenhoe

Just like other forms of gambling. For it to be legal where I live it has to be regulated and taxed. Proceeds from this tax can then be used to aid folks who suffer from such addictions and still alow those who enjoy gambling to still so it.

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Jeff

You can’t legislate morality, not can you use Prohibition to control something like this.

History has taught us that.

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Nathan Aldana

History has also taught us that when theres absolutely zero regulations on exploitative industries, those industries will exploit the most vulnerable for as much money as possible while doing nothing to ensure their practices dont ruin lives, and in fact will usually put money into swinging public opinion to their side.

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Robert Mann

Okay, as far as I am concerned a player who is an adult, in a game rated for 18+, can have as much gambling as they choose. If a game there includes it, great.

If that’s not the game or the player, there is a problem. If it’s the game, make your activities fit your age ratings. If it is the player, then shame on the guardian of said minor who is accessing things that are aimed at an adult audience (unless there is careful consideration and guidance, at which point maybe it is acceptable and maybe not.)

I don’t see this as a huge justice issue. I do see it being a problem with those who aren’t old or mature enough to seek help if they need it. Gaming companies can have the choice, just make it a ratings change. No further government involvement needed… ESRB and similar agencies can fix this in one fell swoop, and developers will adjust. Thus no new regulatory groups getting in, no problems with the gambling status in various nations, etc.

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Nathan Aldana

Thats the thing though. You can moralize about it all you want, but peop;le with gambing addictions are not in control of that, and they cant simply willpower it off any more than someone with clinical depression can force themsef to think happy thoughts. Wanting to think otherwise is you just deluding yourself for the sake of not having to fear you too could one day be a prisoner in your own head.

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Robert Mann

Thing is, I’m not saying that they can just stop on their own. I’m all for them getting the help they need. However, if they are really addicted to gambling like that, turning the MMO lootboxes off isn’t going to stop it or help them.

What will is either they, or their family/friends stepping in, and getting them some counseling and/or therapy for the problem… and then following a plan for the future.

There’s simply no reason to put more government in, and get a lot of stupid rules that make games cruddier over this. That’s like making peanut sales illegal because some people have allergies.

*Just to be clear, I despise lockboxes. I just think that in many cases the advocated cure is even worse.*

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I think all this MMO gambling BS should be regulated just any online casino. I avoid this stuff like the plague and feel sorry for people that get hooked on it.

miol
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miol

Thank you!

Can’t wait when this “movement of thought” (sry, don’t know a better description) finally gets heared by the devs through actual major change of customer behaviour!

At least I know, CU won’t have P2L!

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Toy Clown

I refuse to pay for lockboxes, and other types of “gambling” in MMOs. I have money to spend, and I’m prepared to support the MMOs I play, but I /will not/ dump cash on a /chance/ at loot. I find it unethical, and it’s illegal in the real world.

I’d much rather pay 20-25$ for a fluff item I know I’ll get, than 4-5$ on a lockbox, that could take 20-100$ to get an item out of, then that item is pulled from a pool of items, and it’s just too frustrating, combined with expensive.

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MesaSage

I don’t like the whole lootbox in-game shop thing because it makes my character a gambler instead of me.

Lotro throws lootboxes at you in regular loot, as well as keys, but when you get a few sitting in inventory it’s just too damn tempting to not buy the 3 pack of keys. I don’t have much else to spend points on.

I’ve equipped every single one of my characters with Universal toolkits from those things, plus a bunch of other good stuff, and on balance I’d say it’s been more than fair.

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Robert Mann

Yeah, I think LOTRO is the only game I’ve ever seen both drop in. Everywhere else if there’s any chance the loot odds are something like 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%

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Schmidt.Capela

Lotro throws lootboxes at you in regular loot, as well as keys, but when you get a few sitting in inventory it’s just too damn tempting to not buy the 3 pack of keys. I don’t have much else to spend points on.

It’s why in games with gamblebox keys I immediately destroy those blasted gambleboxes as soon as I loot them unless I already have leftover keys to open them.

No, I don’t sell the boxes in the AH either. I don’t want someone else being tempted to purchase keys due to my actions.

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Sally Bowls

All my issues with this subject are summed up in the last line “Please stop buying lockboxes.”

There are real issues and problems here. “Please stop playing games with exploitive random elements” seems like very reasonable advice I could support. But there are two tenets of “Please stop buying lockboxes” that I strongly disagree with.

1) WTF does the “buying” matter? How is spending an hour of my time for a chance at the RNG lootbox better than spending $1 for the same RNG lootbox??? My time is more valuable; I am gambling more with the former rather than the latter. It is even more exploitative when the developer is selling game time, so I am paying for the privilege of gambling my time. If a single article ever pointed out this gambling issue, it would be far easier for me to take them seriously. In WoW, Scribes can make a Card of Omen, they tend to sell for 4-5 gold; you right click on it and it randomly turns into a trash item that vendors from .0001 gold to 5,000 gold (guess which is more common?). Is this Gambling? Should it also be proscribed? How is mining a copper node in WoW not gambling? It is a non-skill activity with random financial rewards, a textbook definition of gambling.

BTW, I remember D3 1.0; players did not like gold drops where you could buy loot from AH, they wanted the thrill (see gambling & hormones) of random loot drops. I.e. the *PLAYERS* were pushing the devs to make the game appeal most to players who were the most susceptible for being exploited with gambling. If players insist the devs design their game so the target audience likes random gambling thrills (random loot from bosses), then lootboxes being profitable and desired and even demanded by the customers seems inevitable.

2) Pontius Pilate. If this is a moral issue, how can you play games with lockboxes in them, even if you don’t inhale? Gambling is a serious problem. If you believe lockboxes prey upon and cause other human beings harm, why are you willing to play a game that has them? I see no credibility at all in saying this is a large moral issue that is worth many words on the internet, but not worth changing games over? Would you eat in a restaurant owned by North Korea/Syria/Donald Trump/Putin/your-bete-noir-here? How many strident activists would accept your protestations you were just buying dinner? (As an aside, the restaurant owned by Barbara Boxer was quite nice and there was a certain irony that it was non-union) I see some logic in saying you don’t think gambling is wrong. Or the usual MMO sociopathy – you do think it is wrong but strangers getting hurt is less important to you than your fun. But I see no rationale for lecturing people on the evils of X and supporting X by supporting games with X in them. As CCP said, we don’t care what players say, we care what they do. If lockboxes biggest critics will play games with lockboxes, why would a dev not include lockboxes in their game?

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Tandor

I’m always more inclined to take the views of “experts” seriously when I know who they are and who funds them.

As it happens, in the interviews contained in the original article I’d describe the experts’ criticisms of lockboxes as pretty tame. The writer tries to build on them to justify his “Please don’t buy lockboxes” conclusion, but fails in my view, as he does with his use of the term “Pay to loot”. As such he shows his bias which is never good especially when it’s not supported by the expert opinions you’re quoting as the underlying basis for your article!

I don’t personally buy lockboxes, and rarely come across them in the games I play, but I don’t have a principled reason for opposing their existence for those who do buy them, and the expert opinions in this article didn’t sway me from that view.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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Dug From The Earth

People still trying to dictate how people should spend their money when it comes to their own entertainment. Why dont you spend your money how you like, and ill do the same.

The only exception should be for those who suffer from an actual addiction, where it becomes unhealthy, which is what the linked article is mostly touching on. There are actual people out there that need help. (not just with gaming addiction, but with ANY addiction.)

This shouldnt be converted into a “Dont buy lockboxes” public agenda. Otherwise, you might as well tell everyone to stop doing pretty much any entertaining thing that someone might suffer an addiction to.

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Nathan Aldana

Thats the thing though.How do you tell what is and isnt an addiction if theres zero oversight? addicts dont magically look like addicts, most of them look completely normal while the issue festers out of prying eyes.

Wanting to pretend otherwise is such a hilariously simplistic worldview that it disgusts me.

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Witches

From a gamer perspective, lootboxes usually mean less regular gaming content, the games who rely heavily on lootboxes tend to have new content added at a much slower pace and there tends to be less content added.

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Robert Mann

They are too busy coming up with more things to stuff into lootboxes, and ways to promote them as ‘good.’

luxundae
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luxundae

Why do we see things like Magic the Gathering is more acceptable than lockboxes? Or at least, I don’t recall people having such strong opinions about buying new packs of CCGs back in my childhood. Or even baseball cards, for that matter.

I guess it’s a little weirder for purely digital items because they have no intrinsic value whatsoever.

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TherecDaMage .

Not the same.

If you didn’t want to gamble on new MTG or baseball card packs, you could always go to your local hobby store and pick out the specific cards you wanted for a higher price. You had an alternate guaranteed path to get what you wanted.

Game companies are hiding exclusive cosmetics or gear behind these lockboxes so that people have to spend money in order to be given a chance to get the items they want. They can’t buy the items from the cash shop or get them in game.

Personally I don’t have an issue with lockbox systems that reward items you can earn through guaranteed other means at a higher price or time investment. Just have an issue with those that give a person a 0.1% chance to get an exclusive item they can’t get anywhere else.

Example: the Storm Atronach Wolf mount in ESO.

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flatline4400

Oh I saw the scam in those MTG type games right away, as well as seeing a couple friends get addicted to spending money they didn’t have on them. They were merely the analog precursors to these online lockboxes.

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Melissa McDonald

memories of 2007 and how popular casinos were in Second Life. No gaming commission, rigged machines, Lindens redeemable for real dollars, beautiful, Vegas-like palaces with packed (let’s say 50 avatars) dance floors (but dozens of such casinos), pretty much everything in Sin City was there, including prostitution for Lindens.
I chuckle when people dribble on about “lockboxes” as though it were in the same league.

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Sally Bowls

I agree.

Btw, being SL, my first interpretation of “packed” was not crowded.

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

Lockboxes you pay for are idiotic. Lockboxes that the game gives you for free, however, are fun.

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odin valhalla

Pretty biased article, but well written with citation. If youre going to take a position this is the way to do it.

Im all for more transparency, i think thats reasonable. Whats unreasonable, IMHO is regulations that are prohibitive to all. It would be like saying “soda causes obesity, so we are banning soda” but if I am not obese and want a soda?

The article, and the advocacy against spends nearly little to no time on liberty. Should all those who play a game be governed by the addictions of the minority? What if I want to buy lootboxes for rewards? These small fissures in liberty present themselves in many facets of society and they are often well intended. Im not arguing this isnt well intended, but in my fantasy worlds, the games I play, Id like to be absolved of having to account for others non fantasy world addictions/problems.

Gambling in of itself isnt a problem, unhealthy human behaviors and harmful choices are. Again the soda argument, am I going to be on the hook for your inability to not moderate your consumption?

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Vertigo Teaparty

I despise paid lock boxes but agree that people are far too quick to beg the government to come in and regulate. The whole “But GAMBLING ADDICTION!!” bit seems more an excuse to invite and justify regulation than genuine concern.

I get it; I hate lock boxes and part of me would love to see companies who are exploiting them get backhanded by the government. Outside of the harm it does to people with actual addiction it harms the game itself in order to get a quick, easy buck from those with poor willpower, low patience or more discretionary income than time. However I also know that this will open the door to a lot of possible problems, several of which have been mentioned.

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Witches

Your personal threshold is not what should determine what’s “nannied” or not, i’m sure some tough people would love the challenge of a world without cops or any kind of law enforcement, yet most of us babies want our hand held by law enforcement.

The argument isn’t against gambling, casinos are legal in most parts of the world, but if you stamp a 13+ stamp on your game don’t have gambling in it, not exactly an unreasonable demand.

Using your example: soda is fine, feeding a new born with soda isn’t.

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Tandor

Children playing a 13+ game isn’t the problem regardless of whether it has gambling or not. The problem is parents letting children have use of their credit card, without which any gambling is of no consequence as they can’t access it.

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odin valhalla

So you started with my personal threshold should not be a determinant and then ended with your own threshold being the determinant. This is a very good example of blatant hypocrisy that melds into willful ignorance.

You nailed it perfectly. *slow clap*

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Nathan Aldana

look guys, we got a college libertarian. Theyre so adorably idealistic without any thought to consequences.

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Witches

Wilful ignorance is championing something whose odds you’re unaware of, with current lack of regulation the only thing stopping devs from selling stuff and not actually putting them in the boxes is their own conscience.

I’ve seen cases where they just forgot to put something that was advertised, they did rectify it, but the funny thing is nothing really forces them to do it because there’s no regulation.

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Drainage

Heck if I know.

I’m more of a macro issue person. Addictions as a whole are a huge problem, but what shall we do exactly? Nanny state everyone?

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odin valhalla

Make accomedations where you can. Not that many read the EULA when they install a game but disclosure there, as well as a pop up message when you buy lootboxes like “this is gambling” (for lack of a better phrase).

whats worrying is the seeming willingness of several gamers to allow government to regulate this issue. Thats essentially letting government regulate the digital content you consume. The EULA does that, but this issue can be correlated directly to RNG. At what point does the extrapolation happen “I ran this dungeon 50 times and didnt get the drop?”

Can that person make the same argument in context?

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ogged451

Seeing that Secret World Legends is heading that way, I guess it’s time to start a preemptive “Stop the Pay-to-loot” on the Secret World forums 😀

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TherecDaMage .

Hopefully the new lootbox regulations in China will at least provide some transparency on the odds to get the item you want.

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Schmidt.Capela

I wonder if my brain is wired differently. I’ve always kept my distance from random rewards, even as a small child, so I don’t think my disgust at gambleboxes and gambling as a whole is acquired behavior.

BTW, to clarify: I like games of chance. I just hate, and avoid them, when they have any kind of reward. I find Poker and similar games to be quite entertaining when played just for fun, but unbearably frustrating when even small bets are in place.

Crow
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Crow

You’re not alone. I read stuff like this and wonder why people get wrapped into it.

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Nathan Aldana

I mean. its the same reason why I know people who love guns and maintaining or building or using them on a range but I cant fathom how theyre interesting at all. Different people are wired differently.

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Tobasco da Gama

This stuff is straight-up gambling and needs to be regulated as such.

April-Rain
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April-Rain

agreed, its time regulations were brought in by governments, its out of control right now

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Nordavind

If it gets a legal label as gambling, it may get harder to play games with such content in Norway. There is a gambling monopoly run by the state, and they are battling all other forms of organised gambling. The latest thing is that banks will now refuse to send and accept money from online casinos.

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Tobasco da Gama

Well, if games companies want to sell in Norway (or anywhere else that decides to regulate video game gambling the same as offline gambling), then they can stop including gambling mechanics in their games.

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Nordavind

Absolutely. I don’t like these mechanics either. Just providing information to the debate.

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Schmidt.Capela

AFAIK it’s not just Norway. Gambling is both seen as a huge money maker and as a potential social issue, so having it be a state monopoly is supposed to both keep the worst practices at bay and provide much needed income to the government.

The fight will be in whether gambleboxes will get labeled as gambling.

(BTW, an interesting way my country uses to disincentive gambling: you can’t demand the payment of a gambling debt. Someone that accrues a gambling debt is fully entitled to just ignore the gambling debt and never pay, and attempting to collect it can potentially result in the creditor having to pay damages to the indebted gambler.)

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