Earlier this year we discussed the "box break" gambling angle in numismatics: "a new and exciting way to collect coins.... VaultBox was inspired by the thrill of opening sports and trading card packs, and the excitement of chasing the biggest hits." This ESPN article explores "the controversial rise and uncertain future of box breaks" in the sports card realm.
Is it gambling? Is it just good fun? Both?
On that day in 2019, box breaking was still in its toddler stages as the biggest accelerant on what has become a booming, roller-coaster, billion-dollar sports card business. At that time, box breaking was nibbling at the corners of the hobby. Four years later -- at least partially because of what is about to happen in that room with Rich Layton -- box breaking has swallowed up the hobby whole. It's such a big business that using the word "hobby" at all anymore feels a little silly.
THE INVENTOR OF THE BOX BREAK is believed to be a New Jersey card dealer named Rick Dalesandro. But even the most die-hard breakers probably know him only as Dr. Wax Battle, an over-the-top character created by Dalesandro in the mid-2000s. He'd broadcast live from his shop, The Backstop in Toms River, in a black wig, sunglasses and a multicolored shirt.
Breaks were a small part of what was basically a 90-minute or two-hour call-in radio show with Dr. Wax Battle. He'd have sketches, phone calls and interviews, and he would even do a State of the Hobby address. He'd then post them on YouTube, and a generation of little Dr. Wax Battles was born soon after.
Those days feel like 100 years ago. Breaks were recorded, not streamed live, and the most expensive boxes were a few hundred bucks, not $25,000 like some cost now. Breakers would buy boxes from card shops, then post a video one day that they were going to rip open a box a week later. They'd ask people to sign up for it in the comments, then collect money and buy the product. A week later, a video would get posted of the breaker opening up everything.
It's important to note that box breaks did not happen in a vacuum. The human desire to watch other people open up things
had become a new phenomenon in the mid-2000s, and it wasn't just sports memorabilia. People had begun broadcasting
themselves opening up their Christmas gifts, iPhones, gaming systems, clothes, beauty products, new toys ... so many
And make no mistake: This is not just a silly fad. Unboxing stuff is now 15 years old and growing bigger every single
hour of every single day. It's big business on TikTok, Twitch and YouTube, and young people are driving the bus. At one
point in 2021, four of the 10 most popular YouTube channels starred kids, who generated views and sponsorships by
unboxing new toys and trying them out.
Live breaks are now a substantial portion of the card business -- Layton thinks 90-95% of his sales are from breaks, which he also thinks is similar to most of the big sellers these days. "I wouldn't quite say box breaking saved the industry," says Ryan Cracknell, hobby editor at Beckett Collectibles. "But it's taken card collecting to a whole new level. In the 1990s, card shops and card shows were the collecting community. Now, box breaks have become the community, and it turns cards into entertainment."
But this ain't opening up Shopkins or new jeans on camera. There are no tiny plastic figures or Levi's that are worth $100,000, and nobody has purchased a stake in what often feels like a lottery drawing during a card box break. Longtime breaker (and former Class A pitcher) Chad Redfern recently did a break of Topps Transcendent, which has 61 cards in the entire box and costs $27,000 to buy. Each breaker spot was $430 -- for the opportunity to get one card. The cards were all cool, with 1-of-1 autographs and jersey patches for only the very best players in baseball. But, still, each slot was the cost of a monthly car payment. "When you can take an expensive box and chop it up so everybody can get a piece of it, that's cool," Redfern says.
So if this all sounds a little like unregulated gambling ... well, TikTok agrees. In early March, the platform all but banned live box breaks from TikTok, saying that they might constitute illegal gambling. At this point, there is very little regulation of breaks other than trusting card companies and breakers. Fanatics recently announced that it will get into the box break game, and eBay will begin pre-approving sellers before they can break with the company. That should help formalize breaking. But there are still lots of allegations of faking pulls during breaks, that inordinate numbers of big cards seem to go to the biggest breakers, and a slew of other groanings on Memorabilia Twitter on an almost daily basis.
Eric Whiteback, known on Twitter as The Collectibles Guru, thinks it's only a matter of time until other companies join TikTok in forbidding live breaks or regulation becomes a reality, or both. "I would not be shocked to see other social media platforms follow suit -- I honestly think that they should," he says. "There are some of these breaks that you can go into and see how much they resemble a casino."
Attorney Paul Lesko agrees. He's a well-known collector whose Twitter feed is devoted mostly to legal happenings involving sports memorabilia. In his many conversations with other lawyers over the years, he says he has never had a fellow attorney argue that box breaks aren't gambling. He has been predicting congressional investigations, legislation and regulations for a decade now.
And ... nothing has happened. "I think people say, Who is this really hurting? Box breaks are very good for the hobby," he says. "And I like them myself. They bring a lot of excitement to cards. But still, technically, they fall under being illegal forms of gambling. I wish I could be proven wrong."
The article continues with a great profile of Rich Layton and his business, now headquartered in a "Fort Knox-ish" compound near Orlando, FL.
Who doesn't enjoy the thrill of finding something valuable for a fraction of its value? That's how nearly every collector gets their start, when they realize that a coin with a face value of a cent could be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Off we go looking through change and buying rolls at banks, ever in search of that new big score. Even after transitioning to more experienced collectors with a knowledge and appreciation of the history behind coins and the coin hobby, we still react viscerally to the thrill of discovery, like cherrypicking a rare variety at a coin show, or discovering a plated Chapman catalog at a flea market table. The adrenaline rush of found money keeps everyone on a perpetual quest.
To read the complete article, see:
The controversial rise and uncertain future of box breaks
To read earlier E-Sylum articlse, see:
NUMISMATICS WITH KENNY ON NEWMAN PORTAL
LOOSE CHANGE: JANUARY 22, 2023 : Linebacker Pivots to Pokémon
Wayne Homren, Editor
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