Japan’s regulation of gambling-style social games gives a glimpse of the future for Zynga, others.

Forgive us for two social games harping in a day, but news from Japan caught our eye as they attempt to regulate gambling-style “compugacha” games. Players pay a small fee to receive a random in-game item and then attempt to collect all items to unlock an even bigger item. It’s basically the Price is Right as a sales tax. Kyle Orland at Ars Technica explains:

Regulators say the compugacha schemes run afoul of the country’s law on unjustifiable premiums, which outlaws similar “card combination” lotteries in the real world. Consumers are taking note of the games’ addictive nature as well; the Consumer Affairs Agency reportedly received 58 complaints about the practice in the last fiscal year, and some players have reportedly spent tens of thousands of dollars in a single month trying to complete their sets.

Orland then points out that in the U.S. gambling-style games are more likely, not less, noting Zynga’s interest in the space. Casino games are outstripping farming games — surprise, surprise.

My question is less a legal one than it is a cultural one. Gambling is not only regulated in the U.S., but carries a particular stigma as an object of vice and graft. While the prospect of illegal Chinatown FarmVille circuits may provide lovely fodder for C.S.I.,  the larger worry is that games after finally earning free speech protection are headed towards the same sorts of persecutions that led to pinball bans in NYC earlier this century.  Yannick LeJacq looked closely at the distinction between games of chance and games of skill for us earlier this year:

The allure of gambling is how far it swings in the direction of chance—the idea of “winning” is so statistically irrelevant, so highly improbable, that you can only chalk it up to God taking your hand, or the claw itself, and steering it toward victory. Still, this leaves alone the question of fairness—the sense that any game you play should make its rules clear enough for you to figure out how to master them.

Cue poet George Santayana aka “Mr. I-Told-You So” who quipped those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

[via Ars Technica]