In a move to better understand the rise of online social casino gaming, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission invited experts to share their views at a meeting in Boston this week.
The vertical, where no real money is directly wagered on games, and players are rewarded by leaderboard positioning, escalating levels or virtual prizes, continues to grow in popularity, prompting concerns by problem gambling specialists that the concept of gambling is being “normalised” and poses a potential danger to young participants.
Luc Delany, chief executive officer of a trade body titled International Social Games Association, said that social casino gaming was an extension of harmless online gaming and was popular with millions of players around the world. He suggested that the manner in which social gaming is structured ensures that it is not dangerous or gambling in the accepted sense of the word, and that players clearly understand the difference between online social gaming, a growing trend in the casino industry, and actual casino gambling.
“The online casino games take their inspiration from real money games,” he said. “But we think people enjoy them because they don’t take any actual risk of losing money when they play online.”
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, argued:
“It’s pretty clear there are some risks. When you simulate gambling online, whether for money or not, you can develop a gambling problem or exacerbate a problem.”
Whyte recommended that regulators consider the introduction of voluntary guidelines to protect players, noting that although it is not clear whether online social gaming assists casinos to recruit new players, there is evidence to show that online gamblers appear to wager more when playing at land venues.
Gaming Commission chairman Stephen P. Crosby remarked that he has seen no substantive evidence that online casino games lead to problem gambling, but that he had an open mind and would invite Penn National, the owner of Plainridge Park Casino, to discuss the topic at a future meeting.
“I would like to know what Penn is doing now that we have better understanding of the issues,” Crosby said, adding that Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts, which are also licensed in Massachusetts to operate casinos, will also be invited.
Members of the Commission questioned whether they have jurisdiction over social casino gaming where real money is not directly wagered, but expressed an interest in widening their understanding of the vertical.