Online gambling, which Plainridge recently unveiled, is troubling to problem gambling critics. Gambling has one major difference from slots: players who spin the wheels of online gambling are much more likely to win – and win big – than they will if they go to the slot machine show. sub and bet real money.
This could give players a false sense of confidence when playing at the casino, where slots are programmed to win more than they pay out, gambling specialists say.
“If the games look the same and sound the same, but the ROI for one of them is much lower, then that is misleading,” said Natasha Dow Schull, associate professor at the University of New York and author of “Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.” “The question is whether this type of marketing, while correct for footwear and other consumer goods, is acceptable for the game.”
Schull said that online casino sites have bait and change quality because their big wins condition players to expect the same at the casino.
The goal of online slots, a growing trend known in the casino industry as social gaming, is to “prepare your system for gambling – to connect,” she said.
The games are purely for fun with no chance of winning or losing money. Players can earn credits, which mimic the thrill of winning cash and unlock new game levels, but cannot redeem them at the Plainville Casino.
Instead, the games are designed to introduce players to the excitement of gambling and whet their appetite for the chance – however small – of real winnings.
“It’s marketing and advertising to get people to come to your casinos,” said Jason Elison, who works for a Las Vegas-based gaming test lab that state regulators, including the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, use to ensure slot machines are compliant.
Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs at Penn National, the company that owns Plainridge, acknowledged that players have a much better chance of winning online, but said the frequency of wins is comparable.
“As a percentage of spins, the online winning experience is similar to that of the casino,” Schippers said.
But the jackpots are much higher, creating the illusion of success. Because the credits have no real value, the casinos are happy to give them away in bulk. At the top of the weekly leaderboard was a player who had amassed 11 trillion credits, and the all-time winner had amassed more than a quadrillion.
The site also appears to be designed to expand Plainridge’s customer base. A prominent button allows players to email their friends the message, “I have played slots for free at HollywoodCasino.com. I think you would like it. Come join me and get 50,000 free credits! “
Sending the message also earns 100,000 credits.
The State Gambling Commission, which regulates Plainridge Casino, said it has no authority over its online branch and such gambling is prevalent.
“It is becoming more and more common for casino companies (and many other companies) to offer non-wagering online social games where no money or anything of value is won by the player,” he said. the gambling commission said in a press release answering questions from the Globe. “This rapidly evolving technology is not a game and is not currently under our – or any – regulator.”
Still, the commission said it was closely monitoring new developments.
“We continue to closely monitor the introduction of new gaming trends and will take appropriate action when and as necessary to ensure the integrity of the state’s gaming industry,” the commission said.
In a report to the state legislature earlier this year, the commission called for a broad approach to emerging forms of play and gambling, including fantasy sports.
The state needs a “regulatory strategy broad and flexible enough to accommodate all of these proliferating games,” the panel wrote.
The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling declined to comment. But Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said online slots pose a risk.
“Social gambling is of concern because there is always a risk of compulsive use of it,” Whyte said. “It’s the action of the game that is addictive, not the prizes.”
At Plainridge last week, customers expressed a range of opinions about online slots. Ken MacLeod, of Attleboro, said the low stakes made things more relaxing.
“You can enjoy slot machines without losing money,” he said. “It doesn’t cost you anything.”
But Kent Kelleher, also from Attleboro, said he would not play online, fearing he would become addicted to the games’ glitzy charm.
“It’s not good for the brain,” he said. “It can be addicting. I don’t want that. I come here with $ 30 and spend it and it’s entertainment. Play on your computer? It’s not good.”
Indeed, even a few minutes on the Plainridge site, which offers games such as “Alice and the Mad Tea Party”, “Bier Haus” and “Raging Rhino”, can be an exhilarating experience.
“Congratulations!” comes the message after a few turns. “You have received 5,000 additional credits! “
Moments later, another win and 10,000 more credits.
Sean P. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @spmurphyboston.