For Problem Gamblers, Online Casino Games Aren’t Free
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For Problem Gamblers, Online Casino Games Aren’t Free


This post was originally published on November 19, 2014.

The Conversation recently published an article about how free-to-play online casino games are the new phenomenon on the web and we’re only now seeing how it helps and hurts gamblers. In short, they’re games that have the same ringing and buzzing as a Las Vegas casino but they don’t pay out real money. So how do they make theirs? By encouraging their players to connect through social media. 173 million people did this in 2012 and it’s growing at 24% a year. The ad sales on the casino games are equal to mid-level TV network viewership.

Those annoying Facebook invites for farming or vampires or whatever may clog our notifications but every once in a while there’s an invite to play free online poker or blackjack. Companies pay so much money for the social media “gamblers” to see their products on the sides of the screen that the social games genre is expected to make $4.4 billion dollars in 2015. To put it in perspective: these guys will make over four times more money by this time next year than the NBA’s most profitable franchise, the LA Lakers, are worth.

May the Odds Never Be in Your Favor

The writer of The Conversation piece, Sally Gainsbury from Australia’s Southern Cross University, found that 13% of real life gamblers also played these games and that these gamblers were more likely to be younger and have gambling problems. Gainsbury studied 10 social casino gamblers and found that these games are an increasing problem for “some” players. The idea, for the problem players, is that if they’re going to play, it might as well be with real money. I get that. If I’m drinking light beers all day I might as well get real drunk and pop some pills while also doing some coke.

Gainsbury’s other studied gamblers said that they were being flooded with “relentless” ads and invites on Facebook and that it was a constant reminder to gamble. It’s the same system with Las Vegas. I have two online profiles with two of the main parent companies that own 90% of The Strip and as a result I get letters, emails and free credit offers all month until I finally accept.

Virtual Training Grounds

Other participants in the Australian study said that they used the social casino games as a training ground before actual betting. Another participant said that he knew the odds were in the fake gambler’s favor and that they don’t resemble real life casino odds. The increased confidence leads to bigger bets and more losses. Yet several participants admitted that they like the games and losing fake money on them because it reminds them to not lose their money in real life.

The Internet is a virtual training zone for lots of things and gambling isn’t even a new one. It’s simply the next “big” one. Mafia Wars was an awful game on Facebook that people in offices mostly played before Twitter became huge; it didn’t make me want to be in the mafia but it did make me want to play all the time, as did the assistant next to me and the one next to him. I’ve played both casino games with real money and fake credits online, as well as in Las Vegas, and I can safely say that for someone with an ultra-addictive personality, it’s like smoking hookah next to a medical marijuana pharmacy.

In the end, problem gamblers (you know who you are) should be warned that though free-to-play online casinos may not break the wallet, they could break something far more important.

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About Author

Carlos Herrera is a comedian, photographer and writer whose work can also be found on The Fix . He has been featured in LA Weekly and has performed at The Hollywood Improv among other places.