Op-Ed: Is This Fair? Balatro Hit With 18+ Age Rating Change

Op-Ed: Is This Fair? Balatro Hit With 18+ Age Rating Change

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of PokerNews or its members.

A bunch of us here at PokerNews have been absolutely enamoured and hooked by the sensational 'poker, rogue-lite' game Balatro. I, for one, have pushed back several bedtimes to do "just one more" run (it's never just one), and I know for a fact that my colleagues have done the same, whether they admit to it or not.

We're not the only ones experiencing Balatro-induced panda eyes, either. The game has been a huge hit across various platforms, with over 250,000 copies sold in its opening three days. Many fans say they can't stop playing it. But our favorite 'poker not poker game' has been in the headlines for different reasons.

Various gamers outside of the Americas discovered that the game had disappeared from the Nintendo Switch eShop while Balatro was also hit with an 18+ Pegi rating due to displaying prominent gambling imagery. Is this fair? I don't think it is, and I will try and explain why, but first, I will lay out what's taken place over the last few days.

The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and are not expressed by PokerNews.

Playstack Issues Statement

When PokerNews first wrote about Balatro, its age rating was 3+, but this has since changed to 18+, and video game company Playstack took to X to address the situation.

"We are that Balatro has been temporarily removed from sale on a number of digital stores in some countries on console platforms, meaning that some new customers will be unable to buy it," Playstack said. "Presently, we cannot estimate with complete confidence which stores it will be removed from."

This is not an issue with the stores themselves, however a reaction to an overnight change to Balatros age rating from 3+ to 18+ by a ratings board without any advance warning due to a mistaken belief that the game contains prominent gambling imagery and material that instructs about gambling."

Then, on March 4, Playstack posted another update on what platforms have and have not been affected by the age rating change. Thankfully, the game is still available on most platforms, with only Nintendo users having some difficulties accessing it.

"Following further analysis, we can now confirm that changes to Balatros age rating has affected only one platform in limited regions. We expect to be back up everywhere later this week."

At PokerNews, we're committed to promoting responsible gaming. We encourage all our readers to play responsibly and within their means.

There are no real-money components to Balatro. The game currently offers no in-app purchases besides the initial price.

Visit our dedicated safer gaming hub for more information about safe and responsible gaming.

When is Gambling, Gambling?

Users can't gamble on Balatro for real money; it's simply a game where the goal is to make poker hands from the in-game deck of cards. Does that mean the Solitaire you find pre-loaded on old Windows computers should be rebranded as 18+ because gambling imagery, a deck of cards in this case, is used?

Then obviously, there's the wider debate around loot boxes in titles such as EA FC, where kids can freely spend $X in the hopes of packing a Lionel Messi or Neymar for example. Surely, that mechanic is more akin to gambling than anything presented by Balatro? Especially when the latter has no in-game microtransactions. Once you pay the $15 to buy the game, that's the only money a user spends. Furthermore, you're competing against the computer/AI; you're not even playing other people.

The age rating fiasco is something that the developers thought had been ironed out before the game's release. In October, Playstack successfully overturned an original 18+ rating during an appeal where the ratings board said "we have reviewed your product and determined that the disclosure of gambling these was unwarranted."

No content changes have been made to the game since it was changed to 3+, so this current decision appears extremely harsh. The sole developer behind the game, @localthunk, also responded to the news in a social media post, which caught the eye of streamer and poker playerLudwig, who uploaded a YouTube video in defence of his "favorite game."

Ludwig's and my sentiments are very similar, and the former also raises valid points regarding the game of chance elements in Balatro. Ludwig, like myself, doesn't consider Solitaire a gambling game. While we both agree there are threads of luck involved when playing both games, that's just due to "randomness."

Join your fellow PokerNews readers in our Discord server, where you'll find exclusive offers, special freerolls, and all the latest poker-related news and tournament live updates.

Additionally, while the hand ranking system is clearly influenced by poker, there are some hands you can play in the game that are just not possible in poker, such as five of a kind, where you can use the same suit. Don't believe me? Check out our poker rules page!

The age-rating change has also had a knock-on effect for content creators. Balatro videos have been taken down and demonetized, which, in my opinion, is just ludicrous. Again, where is the promotion of gambling? Money is being taken out of working people's pockets due to a misunderstanding, and one that had originally been rectified.

Maybe everything will be resolved over the coming days or weeks, meaning this just becomes another rambling on the internet. But for now, the decision to make Balatro 18+ due to perceived gambling elements is farcical.

Click here to participate in this poll.


Can you win real money at WPT Global?

Yes, you can win real money at WPT Global. WPT Global also offer the chance to win seats in any number of exciting live tournaments.

How many decks are used in poker?

In most popular poker variants, such as Texas Hold'em and Omaha, a standard deck of 52 playing cards is used. Each deck contains four suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades) and consists of 13 ranks (Ace, 2 through 10, and the face cards: Jack, Queen, and King).

What is the bonus code for WPT Global Poker 2023?

The best bonus code for WPT Global is WPT777. By entering the bonus code, players will get a welcome bonus 100% up to $1,200 on the first deposit. The minimum deposit is $20.