Mario Kart Tour has taken the mobile gaming market by storm, with over 90 million downloads in its first week. Players around the world are thrilled that they can now experience the kooky fast-paced excitement of Mario Kart while on the go, but a fuss has been kicked up over the cost of in-game items. Some have even compared it gambling.

As someone who has played the game for far more many hours than I’d like to admit, I’d like to take a look at this issue. I write about casino games every day, so it would be interesting to take a look at whether or not they are comparable with the transactions in Mario Kart Tour.

What Are Loot Boxes?

Loot boxes have been in the hot seat since 2017 , when they came under fire for encouraging gambling among gamers. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, loot boxes are randomised item drops that players can either purchase with real currency, trade for in-game currency or win as part of gameplay.

Mario Kart’s Loot Box Dilemma

For each race in Mario Kart Tour, there are tiers for every type of character and item determining how many bonus points you can earn, which contribute to the number of stars you’ll receive. Each course can provide players with up to five stars. The stars then grant players access into other cups, and progress them through the game.

The problem is that some of the courses require a very high points total before players can earn that coveted fifth star. Most of the time, you’ll need the top tier racer, cart and glider. Of course, there are some players who have mastered the controls and can earn those points without needing the best items – but, for the rest of us, we’re left with the loot box dilemma.

At a cost of five rubies (the game’s premium currency), you can “pull the pipe” for the chance to receive special characters, carts and gliders. For the best characters, however, the odds are not in your favour. There is just a .26% chance of obtaining characters like Dry Bowser, Metal Mario, Peachette and Pauline – the top tier characters on many races who will earn you the points you need to claim those stars.

Of course, you can earn in-game currency in other ways. Completing challenges and winning cups will add to your collection of rubies – but, this also becomes difficult without the premium characters.

Many players in the Mario Kart Tour community have called this a “pay to win” mechanism. Even though I started out feeling a bit dubious about whether this term applies to the game, it is starting to seem this way.

So, Is It Gambling?

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee recommended that loot boxes should be regulated as gambling and that children should be barred from using them. Does that mean Mario Kart Tour contains an element of gambling?

The loot boxes do add a “game of chance” element to what is supposed to be a game of skill. The issue is then exacerbated when you consider that you may need to shell out some cash to try to win some of these randomised items in order to increase your scoring potential.

I’m hesitant to call it “gambling”, per se, since the items in Mario Kart Tour don’t have any real-world value. Also, players aren’t required to spend money – but, it can help things along. It is quite a grey area.

However, one country has made a very black-and-white decision. In Belgium, Mario Kart Tour is not available in Belgium because it contains loot boxes, which have been deemed “in violation of gambling legislation”. This is one of several games that have been banned in the country, along with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes.

This does create an interesting problem for Nintendo. Mario Kart Tour contains loot boxes, which some believe should be regulated as gambling – but this would mean that individuals under the age of 18 wouldn’t be able to play the game. Either that, or the concept of rubies would be removed to ensure a fair playing field for those who can purchase them and those who can’t. Then, advertisements would have to be added to the game in order to generate some revenue for the developer.

For those of us that don’t mind grinding away, we’re simply enjoying the experience of being able to play Mario Kart in a mobile format. However, I’d imagine it would be a lot more fun if we didn’t hit a wall because we’re lacking certain characters.

A new tour will be released on October 11, 2019, with new characters and courses. So, we’ll see if any changes will be made to way in-game currency works.