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Bill to ban the sale of loot boxes to children presses forward with bipartisan support

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Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are on board

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is officially introducing his bill to ban the sale of loot boxes to minors today.
Photo by Leigh Vogel for The Verge

Today, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) will be formally introducing his bill to ban the sale of loot boxes to children, and two of his Democratic colleagues have signed on in support of the legislation.

Hawley’s Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act would, if approved, prohibit video game companies from selling loot boxes to children under the age of 18 and make it unlawful for minor-oriented games to include pay-to-win mechanics. If a games company was found to be unlawfully including these features in games targeted to minors it would be financially penalized.

It’s only been a few months since Hawley has taken office and he’s already built up a reputation as a tough critic of US tech companies like Facebook and Google. With this new legislation, Hawley has paired up with two other lawmakers, Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), to tackle what they believe to be exploitation in the gaming space.

“Only the addiction economy could produce a business model that relies on placing a casino in the hands of every child in America with the goal of getting them desperately hooked,” Hawley said. “I’m proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end these exploitative practices.”

Markey has worked with Hawley before to introduce changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to extend greater data privacy protections to minors online. This legislation would create an “eraser button” for parents to remove all of their child’s data from the related service.

“Today’s digital entertainment ecosystem is an online gauntlet for children,” Markey said of the loot box bill. ”Inherently manipulative game features that take advantage of kids and turn play time into pay time should be out of bounds.”

Pressure to regulate loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics has continued to build over the course of the past few years. Loot boxes and microtransactions have become prominent features in both mobile games and those created by triple-A studios like Blizzard and Electronic Arts. Just this week, Nintendo was forced to pull two games that contained the features from the Belgium market because they violated the country’s own loot box regulations.

“I’m proud to sponsor this bipartisan legislation to protect kids from predatory gaming apps and hold bad actors accountable for their reprehensible practices,” Blumenthal said. “Congress must send a clear warning to app developers and tech companies: Children are not cash cows to exploit for profit.”

Of note, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), who first raised concerns over loot boxes last fall in a hearing with the Federal Trade Commission, is not currently a cosponsor to the bill.