The ESRB has ruled that loot boxes are not considered as gambling under their regulations.
In an email to Kotaku, a spokesperson for the ESRB wrote that;
“ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling. While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player, unfortunately, receives something they don’t want). We think of it as a similar principle to collectable card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.”
The argument that the ESRB has presented is due to the fact that no money is being put on the line for a cash payout. Games like these the ESRB spokesperson went on to say, will “always get an Adults Only (AO) rating” if this is the case. When it comes to games with loot box systems, such as Overwatch, Middle Earth: Shadow of War and, most recently, Star Wars Battlefront II these games have what is called ‘simulated gambling’ which was defined by the ESRB as “the player can gamble without betting or wager any real currency or cash.”
The debate continues to rage on regarding the status of loot boxes as gambling. With more big releases such Assasians Creed Origins and Star Wars Battlefront II being announced to contain a loot box system in the game, it seems that the debate will continue to pan out over the many coming months. Prolific Youtubers such as TotalBiscuit and Jim Sterling both have released videos condemning the practice, with TotalBiscuit himself calling upon the ESRB consider the system as such.
If the practice were to be considered as gambling under the ESRB, the AO rating that games with loot boxes would receive will lead to said games not being able to be sold in major retail outlets. With the ESRB ruling this, the practice will live on to see another day.
You can read the author’s opinion of loot boxes here