Category Archives: Addiction

A New form of Gambling in Video Games? What are Loot Boxes and Why is the Gaming Community asking the ESRB to Call this Gambling Practice Out?

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the highly addictive principle of near misses and how this form of gambling forms strong addiction. Typically viewed in the context of regulated slot machines, the player pulls the lever and tries to line enough symbols up in a row to get a prize. Studies have indicated that when someone gets close but doesn’t win, what they call a near miss in the industry, the player will chase the win. A very similar phenomenon is now taking place in video games. The concept in the gaming world is known as a loot box. You pay a price to manufacture to by a box. Random items that a player would want to have in the game, say, a high powered weapon in a shooting game or a piece of defensive armor that models a coveted look and offers superior protection from other players, are generated when the loot box is opened. The key is that the items are random. Most players are looking for top end, often times called legendary gear. The odds of getting them aren’t too high and so a player tends to keep paying more and more money to open more and more loot boxes chasing after the win, or the best items in the game. This practice was identified very early as a form of gambling and a gaming mechanic that uses the same psychological techniques to addict players. The worst part, they are in games marketed toward children and no regulation exists. The highest level, state or federal laws, are completely none existent, so many in the community turned to the ESRB rating system to get these games classified as mature, so that young kids and teens aren’t the target of such gambling practices. As reported by Forbes, ESRB has erred in declining to view loot boxes as gambling, and social awareness is very much need to properly protect players:

Today, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, stated publicly that the hot new monetization trend in video games, loot boxes, don’t qualify as gambling. This is wrong on many levels. While it’s true that, unlike a slot machine, a loot box will always result in some form of a prize, that doesn’t change the fact that the simple act of opening loot boxes is incredibly similar to gambling, and taps into all the same parts of the brain.

“The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably,” Dr. Luke Clark, director at the Center for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia, told PC Gamer recently “We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards. Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.”

Psychologists call this “variable rate reinforcement.” Essentially, the brain kicks into high gear when you’re opening a loot box or pulling the lever on a slot machine or opening a Christmas present because the outcome is uncertain. This is exciting and, for many people, addictive. When it comes to video games, the biggest concern is that children and adolescents will end up forming addictive behaviors early on.

At this point there are two issues/lines of thought at play. One is that the act of buying a loot box and opening it might not be technically gambling because you always get a prize. To this point, its pointed out above that the act of chasing loot boxes is exactly the same as gambling. More importantly though, some games do allow the players to sell or auction off the items received in exchange for real world money, items or game subscription, things with real world value. Eurogamer very specifically outlines the many ways in their recent article when they discuss both the US ESRB and European’s PEGI stance on loot boxes. So in that sense the player is putting real money into the game, opening the box and getting a price based on random chance not skill, and then cashing out the winnings, which is text book gambling. The Second line of thought is that regardless of whether or not this reaches the threashold for actual gambling that requires governmental oversight, it absolutely should get the ESRB’s attention and it should be disclosed to players and parents accordingly. Forbs continues:

“Look if you include these kind of mechanics in these games and you actually allow people to buy these packs for real money, these random blind packs and engage in what is essentially a form of gambling, then you should be jacking the rating of your game up to Mature.

“The fact that [Star Wars] /Battlefront II/ is going to be Teen rated and yet has an in-game real money gambling system blows my mind. How are they possibly getting away with that? Well, the answer is that the US government and legislation hasn’t caught up with it yet.”

OpenCritic co-founder and CEO Matthew Enthoven says that the ESRB’s response “kind of ducked the issue” calling it a semantic argument. “You can call it gambling, you can call it gaming addiction, you can call it whatever you want. The problem is still the same,” he tells me. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

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No Casinos to release anti-gambling documentary, “Pushing Luck”

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion debate in Florida.  With a new legislative session underway and gambling a clear hot button issue, the pro-family group, No Casinos, is set to release a documentary to aid legislators, and potential voters alike, in their gambling decisions.  The Saint Peters Blog reports:

The anti-gambling group NoCasinos.org is promoting a film to be released January 15 that takes a “clear-eyed look” at the evils of gaming.

In a statement released Friday, No Casinos presented a 90-second trailer for Pushing Luck, a short documentary that shines a critical light on plans to expand gambling casinos throughout the state. The trailer can also be found on YouTube.

In Miami, Atlantic City, Chicago and beyond, filmmakers interviewed recovering addicts, former industry insiders, political leaders and noted academics to examine the economic and social perils of expanded gambling.

According to No Casinos, Pushing Luck “exposes the roots of gambling in Florida, the nature of the industry that pushes it and its consequences for American social, political, and economic life.”

The video is about a half hour and viewings will be set up at various locations around the state beginning in Tallahassee.  Miami Today provides some key information about the history and expertise that will be presented:

“This documentary travels through Florida’s complex history with gambling, from railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to the Great Depression to the present,” said Ryan Houck of Consensus Communications, the film’s producers.

“Our crew traveled to Atlantic City, Chicago, Miami and Massachusetts to interview some of the nation’s leading experts on gambling policy, history, social side-effects and economic consequences,” Mr. Houck told Miami Today.

“We spoke with recovering gambling addicts and former casino employees, whose experiences offer a sobering glimpse into the nature of the casino industry. We also talked with folks who’ve had a front-row seat to the broken promises in Atlantic City – and who have watched firsthand as casino bosses rehashed the very same promises in their attempts to hoodwink the people of Florida.”

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Missouri Looking to Extend Credit to Gamblers

###FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Gambling on Credit:  A Bad Idea

In a letter to the Missouri Senate Casino Watch urges Senators to vote no on HB747.  Chairman, Mark Andrews, hopes the senate will look at research on the question and vote in favor of the people of Missouri, not cave in to just another casino expansion idea:

Dear Senators:

It was my pleasure to address your fine institution many times in the past 20 years on the gambling issue prior to my retirement and move.  But I return via this letter regarding HB747 urging you to vote no.

Much has been written on this subject that would suggest a “no” vote.  For example, “Gambling On Credit:  Exploring the Link Between Compulsive Gambling and Access to Credit”, 2006, FL Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc.  This was a think tank of representatives from medical, legal, government, education, credit counseling and addiction treatment perspectives.  Please consider a few quotes from this study.

“Access to credit allows an individual to continue gambling whether or not he or she has actual cash in hand. The very nature of compulsive gambling makes this transition from gambling with cash to gambling on credit a significant step with repercussions for the gambler and his or her family and friends, employers, creditors and other contacts”.

“Participants expressed the belief that easy access to credit accelerates the problem and process of a gambling addiction….”.

“Personal consequences may include new addictions, depression or suicide, while financial consequences may include higher levels of debt, ruined credit, and loss of a home, car or other property – all of which create a devastating situation for the compulsive gambler and his or her family”.

The carving in marble high on the wall of your chamber will always be remembered for its clarity and profoundness:  “Nothing is politically right that is morally wrong”.  Don’t get me wrong here—I’m not speaking of the morality of gambling–rather the passing of a bill that will surely bring harm to many people who struggle with some level of addiction to gambling.  It is not worthy of Missouri to attempt to address its public financial strains by enticing its citizens to increase their personal financial risks.

Thank you for your consideration on this important issue.

Respectfully,

Mark Andrews

Chairman

Casino Watch

Andrews references the State motto “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law” in making the point that it is time once again for the General Assembly to hold the line on casino expansion and keep the current regulation in place.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Study Confirming Near-Misses Fuel Gambling Addiction Highlights Need to Stay Focused on Slot Machines

Casino Watch Focus has reported many times on the dangers of slot machines.  The psychology behind why slot machines are so effective at addicting players has been the subject of many researchers.  A recent study has examined the idea of a “near-miss,” or coming one icon away from a win.  The conclusion of the researchers is that these near-misses fuel gambling addiction.  An online source explains:

Canadian researchers have provided new evidence that gamblers interpret near-misses as frustrating losses rather than near-wins. This frustration stimulates the reward systems in the brain to promote continued gambling that, in turn, may contribute to addictive gambling behavior.

Studies to date have shown that near-misses support persistent gambling and activate brain areas that reinforce certain behaviors. If near-misses are seen as near-wins, then they should be pleasurable. If, however, near-misses are highly frustrating losses, then they should be unpleasant.

The analyses showed that progressively larger wins led to longer pauses between spins and increased arousal levels. Near-misses with jackpot symbols landing on the first two reels led to significantly larger skin responses than regular losses and other types of near-misses. In addition, the gamblers were compelled to repeat the spin as quickly as possible after this type of near miss.

“By activating what we call the appetitive component of the mesolimbic rewards system, these near-misses may help a player develop a hopeful, subjective impression that the next win is imminent,” Dr Dixon said. “This might ultimately contribute to the sensitization of the appetitive system, which plays a key role in addictive behavior.”

This type of research helps to illustrate how people can become addicted to slots.  As elections near, its research like this that demands close attention to the types of gambling that could be exposed to communities.  Natasha Shull, a cultural anthropologist and associate professor in MIT’s Program on Science, Technology and Society, has spent the last 15 years researching and studding the slot machines.  In an MIT article, she explains how slot machines are designed to addict gamblers and create tremendous profits for casinos:

Schull herself is not a gambler, but says she can relate to gamblers when they talk about the repetitive, absorbed relationship they enter into with the technology. “I think many of us understand what it’s like to zone out on machines.

As Schull explains, today’s machines are much different from ones of the past. Visual graphics are now calibrated so the gamblers’ eyes won’t get tired so quickly. Sound is manipulated as well, to reduce the stress of cacophony in cavernous spaces. To facilitate faster play, today’s machines have buttons and touch-screens instead of handles and mechanical reels.

Instead of coins, they accept player credit cards. Instead of a few games per minute, it is now possible to play hundreds. Inside the machines, complicated algorithms control the odds. “Every feature of the machines is geared to keep people playing until they’re broke.”

Natasha Shull had published a new book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. Her book and research will be the feature of many articles on Casino Watch Focus and more information on her book can be found here.  As elections near in your communities, please remember that there’s a reason gambling companies spend so much money to influence elections and to expand gambling.  Its not because they plan to make winners of everyone in the neighborhoods, its because they have designed a method of revenue collection for high profits that are fueled by addiction.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Hungary Views Slot Machines as a Threat to National Security

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion efforts in Florida.  As the election draws near, many local communities will be voting on a myriad of gambling initiatives, most of which involve slots.  The dangers of slot machines can be devastating to a community and one nation has more than recognized their danger.  Hungary is viewing slots as a threat to their national security.  The Wall Street Journal explains:

Hungary’s government decided Monday urgent action is needed to crack down on gambling because it eats into people’s incomes and poses a threat to national security.

State secretary Janos Lazar said that slot machines present a serious hazard, especially for the rural poor who spend sizable chunks of their small salaries and welfare benefits on one-armed bandits.

“Gambling is explicitly dangerous and harmful for society,” Mr. Lazar said. Games of chance in general go against the credo of his conservative political family, he said, which is why the government considers the matter a key priority.

The country is so adamant about the dangers of slot machines, that they are taking swift measures to outlaw them. The Wall Street Journal continues:

Mr. Lazar said the ruling majority will rush the necessary legal changes. A group of representatives from the governing Fidesz party will submit legislation Monday with a final vote coming as soon as Tuesday. The urgency is warranted by new information on a national security risk from groups in the gambling industry, Mr. Lazar said while declining to divulge any details regarding the nature of the risks.

Under the legal revision, slot machines will no longer be put into operation and those currently in use would be recalled, the only exceptions being casinos that have concessions from the state. If adopted, the measure will have widespread effects on many low-range bars and pubs, which operate slot machines that generate a considerable part of their revenue.

Mr. Lazar said that the revenue shortfall to the budget resulting from the slot machine ban will be made up through new regulations and taxes on online gambling.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


As New States Join the Sports Betting Fold, Concerns for Crime, Addiction and Costs for Taxpayers

Casino Watch Focus has reported many times on sports gambling and the attempts states have made to legalize such betting.  An online source is reporting that Delaware has now passed legislation to expand sports betting to the internet as well as 20 other non-casino locations.  Illinois is also considering such expansion.  Illinois own, Professor John Kent explains the dangers to families if this trend extends:

John Warren Kindt, a professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois, has testified before the U.S. Congress and state legislatures regarding socioeconomic gambling issues. He is a senior editor and contributing author to the multi-volume 2009-2012 United States International Gambling Report

Legalizing sports gambling would obviously create new taxpayer costs for crime and would open the door to widespread Internet gambling. More subtly and most importantly, legalizing sports gambling would result in the creation of new Wall Street financials and catalyze a new speculative bubble similar to the 2008 debacle on credit default swaps. The financial “side-bets” of sports gambling need to be exposed as creating no product, having no real asset base, and “wearing no clothes.

The congressional bipartisan U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission highlighted that gambling scandals have historically accompanied collegiate, professional, and even Olympic sports. Noting that the U.S. Congress had been misled into allowing legalized sports gambling in four states (Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon), the U.S. Gambling Commission recommended “that the betting on collegiate and amateur athletic events that is currently legal be banned altogether.” Before, during, and after the U.S. Gambling Commission, this Recommendation 3.7 was actively supported by all of the U.S. professional and collegiate sports associations, which were concerned with the “integrity of sports,” the potential for systemic corruption, and organized crime. 

According to the medical, sociological, and psychiatric communities, gambling addiction parallels drug addiction. These medical similarities may be viewed in the 60 Minutes news expose, “Slot Machines: The Big Gamble.” Sports gambling is also known as the “gateway drug” to gambling addiction. At 4 percent to 6 percent of their demographic, young people are already showing double the gambling addiction rate of the older generations. Therefore, the U.S. Gambling Commission recommended extensive efforts to educate young people regarding the problematic nature of gambling (Rec. 3.13), and the commission recommended the continued criminalization of Internet gambling (Rec. 5.1).

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Gambling Addiction being Reevaluated by Psychiatric Community

Casino Watch Focus has reported many times on the dangers of gambling addiction. Too often families are destroyed and business are crippled. Casino Watch Focus has also reported on numerous studies that look at gambling addition and its impact. It appears the Psychiatric community has taken note and they are seriously considering changing the way they define and deal with gambling addiction.  Florida State’s WSFU explains:

Can someone actually be hooked on a behavior, like gambling? Problem gambling isn’t considered a true addiction in medical circles. But that may change as psychiatrists revise the diagnostic manual that spells out criteria for more than a dozen varieties of mental disorders.

The proposed revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, would add “gambling disorder” to alcohol and drug problems as a “substance use and addictive disorder” that insurers and others would use to make decisions about treatment and coverage .

“Research and clinical work [indicate that] the underlying pathology and genetics of addiction involve not only substances but may also involve behavior,” says David J. Kupfer, chair of the DSM-5 task force overseeing revisions to the manual, which is produced by the American Psychiatric Association.  The proposed revisions, which are open for public comment, will be finalized and published in May 2013. We’re being very conservative about this,” Kupfer says.

 For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION