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Republican Senator Josh Hawley Pushes For Anti-Loot Box Bill

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  • Senator Josh Hawley has drafted a bill that would ban the sale of loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in games that target or are played by children.
  • Two of his Democratic colleagues have signed on in support of the legislation, arguing that the features prey on minors and essentially serve as casinos for kids.
  • Meanwhile, industry leaders argue that the features do not constitute gambling and say parents already have the ability to prohibit in-game purchases with parental controls.

The BIll

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) formally introduced a bill on Thursday that would ban the sale of loot boxes to children.

Hawley’s bill is called “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” and if approved it will restrict video game companies from including loot boxes or pay-to-win microtransaction in games that target children or are “played by minors.”

The bill calls for financial penalties should a gaming company violate these rules. “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 of the features.

He has teamed up with two Democratic lawmakers, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on this legislation, saying “I’m proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end these exploitative practices.”

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

“I’m proud to sponsor this bipartisan legislation to protect kids from predatory gaming apps and hold bad actors accountable for their reprehensible practices,” Senator Blumenthal said.

“Congress must send a clear warning to app developers and tech companies: Children are not cash cows to exploit for profit.”

Loot Boxes and Microtransactions

The bill will specifically focus on loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics. Loot boxes are often incorporated in both free and paid games. They offer players randomized rewards for spending money. Meanwhile, play-to-win microtransactions typically take two forms.

In some instances, game designers create games with difficult paths to entice players into spending money on upgrades to progress further in the game. Many times, these games are free to download, which initially draws players in and allows them to become invested in the game before it becomes more challenging.

In other cases, game engineers create multiplayer games that offer players the chance to purchase upgrades or competitive advantages over other players.

Are Industry Leaders Concerned?

Calls for regulation of loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics have increased over the last several years. Especially as loot boxes have become increasingly popular features in mobile games and larger games produced by companies like Blizzard and Electronic Arts.

Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission said it would investigate loot boxes following a letter from Senator Maggie Hassan. That letter was written after a string of games in 2017 featured heavy usage of microtransactions. This was seen in games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II.

While some companies have pulled back on the practice, popular games like Overwatch, FIFA, and Apex Legends continue to make huge profits off of randomized microtransactions. However, some countries have taken a stand against these features. Earlier this week, Nintendo was forced removed two games in Belgium for violating the country’s loot box regulations that treat loot boxes as an illegal form of gambling.

In a recent interview with Kotaku, Hawley admitted he is not a gamer, but said that the idea for the bill came from “being a parent of two little boys,” and from “talking to a lot of parents” who were suddenly seeing several charges on their cards after purchasing games for their kids.

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier asked if Hawley had spoken to industry leaders about the bill. Here’s how that conversation went:

  • Schreier: Have you been in conversations with the ESA, the video games lobbyist group, or any other video game companies about how this might impact them?
  • Hawley: Yes, yes we have.
  • Schreier: Can you describe the nature of those conversations?
  • Senior policy advisor Jacob Reses: This is Jacob here. I think it’s fair to say the industry has concerns about this… We’ve been trying to be very transparent with them, but there may be some difference of opinion.
  • Hawley: Jacob’s being very diplomatic.
  • Schreier: Yes, any elaboration you can make here? I ask because I pay a lot of attention to these financial calls that these companies have, and EA for example is very reliant on the loot box income that comes in from FIFA games. A lot of these companies are very reliant on this stuff.
  • Hawley: And FIFA would indeed be covered by this legislation, to be clear. They’ve certainly expressed their, shall we say, concern over this legislation. But I think that’s probably a good indication that we’re getting somewhere.

The bill will likely face pushback from industry leaders who have stood by their use of microtransactions. Earlier this month after Hawley announced his plans for the bill, The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry lobbyist group, sent over a statement to Kotaku saying:

“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling. We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”

See what others are saying: (Kotaku) ( (The Verge) (The Gamer)

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Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air

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While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.


Booster Rollout in Flux

President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.

The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.

However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.

The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.

Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.

Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.

Debate Continues in Crucial Week

More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.

On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.

The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide. 

On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.

The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.” 

Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.

Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.

“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”

Uncertain Future

It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.

Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.

Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.

Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.

“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Guardian)

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Kansas Lawmaker Accused of Kicking Teen in Groin Receives Suspended Sentence

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Before allegedly assaulting the teenager in class, the lawmaker and former substitute teacher ranted to students about God, the Bible, Masturbation, and more.


Samsel Displays Inappropriate Behavior

Kansas Rep. Mark Samsel (R) was given a 90-day suspended jail sentence and one year of probation Monday after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct. 

Samsel, a former high school substitute teacher in Wellsville, initially caused outrage in April after displaying bizarre classroom behavior. Footage recorded by students and published by the Kansas City Star showed Samsel ranting about the wrath of God, the Bible, masturbation, suicide, and other topics. At one point, he allegedly even pushed a student against a wall and kicked him in the groin.

While that specific altercation doesn’t appear to have been caught on video, student footage shows what seems to be the aftermath of the alleged assault.

“I’m simply built different, Mark. I don’t feel pain,” the student jokingly tells Samsel after picking himself up off the ground. Samsel responds by asking if the student is about to cry.

“You want to go to the nurse? She can check it for you?” Samsel adds.

“Make babies! Who likes making babies? That feels good, doesn’t it? Procreate,” Samsel said at another point in the video. “You haven’t masturbated? Don’t answer that question.”

Other notable quotes include, “Would you like me to introduce [you] to a sophomore who’s tried killing himself three times because he has two parents and they’re both females?,” and, “I could put the wrath of God on your right now because that is what he is trying to do. You should run and scream cause the devil’s getting the hell out of my classroom.”

After students reported his behavior, Samsel told local news outlets that he didn’t do anything wrong and that the situation was actually “planned.”

The kids and I planned ALL this to SEND A MESSAGE about art, mental health, teenage suicide, how we treat our educators and one another. To who? Parents. And grandparents. And all of Wellsville,” he also wrote on Snapchat, according to The Star.

However, he later told investigators that he what at his “wit’s end” with “misbehaving students.” Then last month, he announced via Facebook that he had sought mental health treatment and was giving up his substitute teaching license, describing the situation as an “isolated episode of mania with psychotic features’‘ prompted by “extreme stress, pressure and agitation.”

Samsel’s Sentence

Samsel faced additional consequences in conjunction with his suspended sentence and year of probation. He was also banned from using social media, unless for political purposes. He cannot have contact with the students who reported him and must write apology letters to those involved. He must also follow mental health treatment recommendations and take any prescribed medications

Samsel, for his part, apologized in his court appearance via Zoom, saying he never “intended for anyone to get hurt.”

Some parents seem happy with the sentence, like Joshua Zeck, who told the Star, “From the beginning, all I wanted was for Mark to get some help.”

“I don’t want to see anybody go to jail. So if this does him so good and he’s doing better, I’m happy to hear that,” Zeck continued.

Others in the community told the paper that his sentencing was too lenient, including Mary Woods, whose niece had class with Samsel the day of the incident.

“I don’t think that’s enough. He laid his hands on a kid. … He traumatized a lot of these kids. I think it’s bullsh*t, to say so myself.”

As far as whether Samsel will keep his job in the state legislature, Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman said that’s up to voters to decide.

See what others are saying: (The Kansas City Star)(Insider)(NBC News)

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Alabama Man Dies After Being Turned Away From 43 Hospitals Overwhelmed by COVID Patients, Family Says

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Alabama currently has the second-highest COVID hospitalization average and fourth-lowest vaccination rate in the country.


Full ICUs Allegedly Delay Care for Emergent Cardiac Patient 

The family of an Alabama man who died of heart issues is calling on people to get vaccinated after he was turned away by 43 hospitals in three states while having a cardiac emergency because all of their Intensive Care Units were at maximum capacity with COVID patients.

The man, 73-year-old Ray DeMonia, was taken to Cullman Regional hospital in Alabama on Aug. 23. The next morning — around 12 hours after he was admitted — his daughter said her mother got a call saying that hospital workers were unable to find him a specialized cardiac ICU bed in the area. 

He was eventually transferred to a hospital in Mississippi about 200 miles away and died on Sept. 1, just three days before his birthday.

In DeMonia’s obituary, his family pleaded with people to get the vaccine.

“In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non COVID related emergencies,” they wrote. “He would not want any other family to go through what his did.”

Rising Hospitalizations

Officials and healthcare providers in Alabama have said DeMonia’s case is not a one-off incident. 

Jennifer Malone, a spokesperson for Cullman Regional, told The Washington Post that situations like this have been an “ongoing problem” reported by doctors at the hospital and others throughout the state.

“When patients are transported to other facilities to receive care that they need, that’s becoming increasingly more difficult because all hospitals are experiencing an increased lack of bed space,” she said.

On Friday, Scott Harris, the head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said that the state’s spike in ICU patients has stabilized some. Still, he added there are not enough ICU beds for the number of patients that need intensive care, many of whom are unvaccinated.

Even with the spikes “stabilizing,” Alabama still has the second-highest COVID hospitalizations in the U.S., according to The Post tracker

The calls from DeMonia’s family for people to get vaccinated also come as Alabama struggles with the country’s fourth-lowest vaccination rate. Despite those figures, top officials in the state are doing little to address the issue.

Last week, after President Joe Biden rolled out a sweeping vaccine mandate for 100 million people and promised he would use his power to circumvent Republican leaders “undermining” relief efforts, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) told the president to “bring it on.”

Ivey then doubled down on her refusal to mandate vaccines in her state, where people are being refused emergency hospital care because so many unvaccinated people are in ICU beds.

“You bet I’m standing in the way. And if he thinks he’s going to move me out of the way, he’s got another thing coming,” she said, referring to the mandates as “outrageous” and “overreaching” policies that will “no doubt be challenged in the courts.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (NPR)

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