Rather than going straight to laws, a quicker change (for the time being) is to ask Age/Content Rating systems to include these “Pay for an item of variable value” systems as a source for their Gambling labels. A harsher punishment in age-rating for adding this kind of system could at least pave the way for Parental Control-like options to disable their functionality and pop-ups in games.
For clarity: I wrote a comment on this on the Giant Bomb forums, but I’ll copy the relevant part here:
The gambling angle got me interested in looking up Rating systems. I started with PEGI ratings (because I’m in the UK) and they have a “Gambling” disclaimer reading: “Games that encourage or teach gambling”. I honestly believe these random-chance items (especially when purchaseable with real money) should be added to this gambling disclaimer. The idea that Forza Motorsport 7 has an age rating of 3 without the gambling disclaimer doesn’t sit well with me. Currently, it looks like the game has to actually represent the traditional appearance of gambling to get the label (the most recent example I found was for Yakuza Kiwami).
On the other side of the pond, at the ESRB, they go into even greater detail. Not only do they have the content descriptor “Simulated Gambling - Player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency” but they also state that they review “interactive elements” including “Digital Purchases - Enables purchases of digital goods completed directly from within the app (e.g., purchases of additional game content, levels, downloadable music, etc.)”. Furthermore, they have extra details on the age ratings with the descriptor “simulated gambling” applying from Teen and up, and “gambling with real currency” applicable to Adult (18+). I’ve yet to find a single game which mentions the gambling descriptor (not even the Yakuza games’ simulations of casino games make the cut this time). I also haven’t found a description where the extent of purchaseable goods is commented on.
Age ratings aren’t very effective, we all know that, but both PEGI and the ESRB imply that they are looking out for “Gambling” (and, in the latter case, in-app purchases too) and yet for many of the titles which I feel should be candidates, the descriptors aren’t used. I’m disappointed because I feel the threat of at least inflating the age rating of a game could be the kind of incentive publishers need to at least allow opt-out options to disable them. Imagine how big a deal it would be if allowing players to “gamble” (i.e. random chance at variable rewards) with real money was an instant rating for Adult at the ESRB. This would be the sort of PR issue that even the wider media would pick up on.
Since I wrote that comment I ended up sending a message to PEGI (not the ESRB because I’m in the UK) asking them what their definition of “Gambling” is. I also described the recent trend in games (with examples) and stated why I considered them similar to gambling which is why I was interested why these types of micro-transactions don’t get their “Gambling” descriptor. Who knows if they’ll respond.