Category Archives: Slot Machines

McDonald’s Come Under Fire for Super Mario Slot Machine Toy

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on underage gambling and risk factors for children exposed to gambling. The NFL came under fire for marketing fantasy football to minors, and they decided to end those efforts. More recently, its been loot boxes in video games that have been so widely discussed. As many have explained, it’s a game mechanic with virtually no difference from gambling, with on legislator outright calling Battlefield II a “Star Wars Themed Online Casino.” Where as Mickey Mouse, the second most recognizable character in the world under Disney was under fire (as they own the Star Wars brand and had to intervene in the loot box situation), its now the world most recognizable character, Nintendo’s Mario, that’s in news.   McDonalds made a slot machine toy of Mario in a line of Nintendo themed happy meal toys, and its been called inappropriate by the National Council on Problem Gambling and others. An online source explains: 

Today, Jennifer Kruse, Executive Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), joined the National Council on Problem Gambling by calling upon the toy manufacturer giant, Nintendo® of America, and the fast food industry leader, McDonald’s®, to stop marketing their Slot Machine Super Mario™ toy from McDonald’s® Happy Meals®.

“We were shocked when we noted the slot machine toy in a Happy Meal® here in Florida. Nintendo® and McDonald’s® need to be attentive to the messages their products are promoting among children,” said Kruse. Youngsters are very impressionable and despite the restrictions to gamble among minors, research reveals that adolescents are involved in gambling activities and are at higher risk for developing gambling problems than their adult counterparts.”

“Just because you cannot easily ‘see’ a hazard, does not mean it doesn’t exist. Had the Super Mario™ Happy Meal® toy highlighted a bottle of beer or bloodshot eyes, or had the fantasy character smoking a cigarette, government and others would be up in arms. Unfortunately, we can no longer afford a double standard when research confirms that problem gambling is a growing public health issue, in general, and especially among adolescents, that demands attention now,” concluded Kruse. 

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Military Personnel to be Screened for Problem Gambling under new Trump Directive

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the concerns of gambling in the military. The Department of Defense actually operates gambling facilities where service personnel gamble on slot machines. A few years ago Sen. Elizabeth Warren pushed an amendment to study the issues of problem gambling saying, “If the military is going to operate gambling facilities that bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue, it also needs to ensure there is adequate prevention, treatment, and financial counseling available for service members struggling with gambling addictions.” She explained that over 36,000 service members fit the definition of problem gamblers. Now the Trump Administration has passed an initiative to screen for problem gambling during service member’s medical examinations. An online source explains: 

Members of America’s armed forces will now have to undergo screening for gambling addiction thanks to a new provision contained within the *National Defence Authorisation Act* that was signed into law by *President Trump* this week.

Section 733 of the House Armed Services Committee Report 115-874 requires the Department of Defence (DoD) to incorporate medical screening questions specific to gambling disorder in the next annual periodic health assessment conducted by the Department as well as in the Health Related Behaviours Surveys of Active-Duty and reserve component service members.

NCPG executive director *Keith Whyte* said: “Previous DoD surveys have found active duty personnel are two to three times more likely to have gambling problems than civilians. Better detection of gambling problems improves overall health and reduces social costs. Undetected gambling addiction exacerbates substance use disorders, depression and suicidal behaviour.”

He added: “NCPG strongly believes military personnel need and deserve effective gambling addiction prevention, education, treatment, enforcement, research, responsible gaming and recovery services. With the provision requiring members of the Armed Forces to be screened for gambling addiction, championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, we take a vital step to improving the lives of service members and their families.

 

 

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Florida Appeals Court to Rule on New “Pre-reveal” Slot Machines

Casino Watch Focus has reported on a new form of slot machine termed pre-reveal machines. These machines have the ability to drastically expand gambling in the state should the be viewed as anything other than a slot machine. Slot machines would be heavily regulated as a game of chance and face numerous restrictions. They work slightly different that a typical slot machine in that the reveal what the next spin will be. The creators and those that believe they shouldn’t be regulated as slot machines claim that because you see what the next spin will be, it can’t be gambling. The judge originally agreed with the creators and said they were legal machines. The judge was urged to reexamine how the machines actually work and it was explained to him that event though the next pull was revealed, it was the spin after that would be revealed that gamblers were chasing. It’s exactly like a slot machine except the gambler is one play behind. They basically pay for the spin they know is coming, but its really the next spin that will be revealed that they gamble on being a winner. Now the case has reached the Appellate level and its outcome could have a huge impact if these machines are deemed legal. An online source explains: 

In a legal dispute that’s dragged on for more than three years and has eluded a legislative remedy, an appellate court is grappling with whether popular tabletop games are illegal slot machines or more-benign entertainment options for customers of bars and restaurants.

The 1st District Court of Appeal heard arguments Tuesday in the case centered on games produced by Blue Sky Games and leased by Jacksonville-based Gator Coin II Inc., after a Tallahassee judge last year sided with gambling regulators who maintain that the games violate a Florida law banning slot machines in most parts of the state.

Proponents of the devices, known as “pre-reveal games,” contend that the machines are legal because the computer games include a “preview” feature that advises players of the outcome of the games.

But critics, including the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, say that doesn’t matter because the “random number generator” used to create the games equates to the definition of slot machines, which are games of “chance,” under state law.

There’s nothing players can do to affect the outcome of the game, which fits the definition of slots, department attorney Daniel McGinn told a three-judge panel Tuesday.

The only other argument that they are advancing is that because the first game is known, and only the games after are not known, then a ruling requires looking at all the games played and not simply a single game. The state believes its irrelevant if one game is played or many games are played. The online source continues:

A key issue in the case involves whether the slot-machine law applies to playing a single game or a series of games. While the outcome of the first game is revealed in advance, a player at the outset does not know the results of subsequent games.

Judge James Wolf repeatedly asked lawyers on both sides whether the court should consider whether a single game or a series of games violates the law.

“I’m a simple kind of guy. It comes down to whether we can consider the entire course of the play or one particular game. Their argument is one particular game is not a game of chance because you know the outcome. … What in the statute allows us to consider the entire course of play?” he asked, pointing out that the state law defines slot machines, in part, as a device whose outcome is “unpredictable by the user.”

The answer rests in the way the machines generate the games, which the state believes violates the law, said McGinn, whose department regulates gambling. “From our perspective, it doesn’t matter whether it’s one game. It doesn’t matter whether it’s multiple games,” he said.

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Florida Ends Session with No Gambling Bills Passed – Seminole Tribe Provided Assurances to Continue the Revenue Sharing Compact in the Interim

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion issues in Florida. Many issues were on the table this legislative session including a new gambling compact between the State and the Seminole Tribe, a greyhound racing ban, specific regulations on types of card games to be allowed, and the location and expiation of new slot machines in the states. The hope was to address these issues this legislative session, as it seems clear that a new amendment will pass a vote of the people to require all future gambling legislation to be approved by the voters. Most recently though, Casino Watch Focus reported that those goals were unlikely to be achieved as the focus of the Florida legislators would be shifting to focus on gun control legislation that was prompted after the Parkland school shooting. After those efforts were complete, gambling discussions were given some very last minute life, but as reported by The Palm Beach Post, those efforts have come to a close with no new gambling bills being passed:

Republican legislative leaders had resurrected the issue in the waning days of the session as they tried to strike a deal between the gambling-leery House and the Senate, which was willing to expand slot machines to counties where voters have approved the lucrative machines.

But after a day of horse-trading, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron declared the issue off the table. “Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” the leaders said in a statement Friday evening. “Gaming remains one of the most difficult issues we face as a Legislature. We are pleased with the progress made over the last week and know that our colleagues will continue to work on this important issue.”

Lawmakers were anxious to address the perennially elusive issue due to a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would give voters control of future gambling decisions, something now largely left up to the Legislature.

“We spent so much time, and rightfully so, on the school-safety legislation, and we found ourselves on a Friday, with a Sunday deadline if we had extended, and the tribe’s not up here,” Galvano said, referring to school-safety legislation stemming from the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Broward County high school.

One of the more pressing issues at hand, was the formation of a new gambling compact between the Florida and the Seminole Tribe. The legal issues at hand have stemmed from the exclusivity aspects of certain card games in exchange for income to the State. The Palm Beach Post continues:

Also, legislators wanted to ensure a steady stream of income from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The money could be in peril after a federal court ruling about controversial “designated player” games at pari-mutuel cardrooms throughout the state. Striking a new deal, called a compact, with the Seminoles, which would be part of any gambling legislation, has proved elusive for legislators.

One of the critical provisions of a 2010 deal between the state and tribe, giving the tribe “exclusivity” over banked card games, such as blackjack, expired in 2015. That spawned a protracted legal battle and previously futile attempts by lawmakers to seal a new agreement. The tribe pays more than $300 million a year under the banked-card games portion of the 2010 agreement.

But the legal battle focused heavily on what are known as “designated player games,” which are played at pari-mutuel facilities. After a federal judge sided with the tribe in a dispute over whether the lucrative designated-player games breached the Seminoles’ exclusivity over offering banked card games, the tribe agreed to continue making payments to the state, and gambling regulators promised to “aggressively enforce” the manner in which cardrooms conduct the designated player games.

While the tribe agreed to temporarily continue paying the state, some lawmakers are eager for the financial certainty a new compact would provide. But Galvano said he has spoken with a representative of the tribe, who assured him that the Seminoles intend to maintain the revenue-sharing agreement with the state. 

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New Missouri Gambling Bill Represents the Largest Gambling Expansion to the State since Casinos

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the newest attempts to expand gambling in Missouri, that being Tribal Casinos. The opposition was immediate and not much else has come out publicly about that expansion idea. A new discussion for expansion has emerged however, and if allowed, it could easily be the largest expansion of gambling since voters agreed to riverboat casinos. The bill proposed would legalize slot machines in bars, convenient stores and places like the VFW. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports: 

Under legislation endorsed by a Senate committee Tuesday on a 4-2 vote, the state would allow as many as five video gambling machines in taverns, convenience stores, restaurants and truck stops and as many as 10 machines in benevolent organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the Elks Club. 

An analysis of the proposal shows nearly 20,000 slot machines could become as close to home as the local convenience store after a four-year ramp up period. 

Mike Winter of the Missouri Gaming Association said legalizing slot machines would be the largest expansion of gambling since voters approved the casinos. “This is a very substantial change in policy,” Winter said. “We do have considerable concerns with the legislation.”

 The casino industry would obviously see a hit to their bottom line and given they have substantial lobbying influence, legislators decided to add a way to help the casino industry off set some of their losses. The bill paves the way to allow even more expanded gambling by allowing casinos to offer sports gambling. KMOV reported the details:

There is a renewed effort in Missouri to legalize slot machines at bars and convenience stores despite concerns from the casino industry. The Missouri Video Lottery Control Act made it’s way out of committee on Tuesday.

To help out casinos, the bill does allow for sports betting. Taxes from wagering on sporting events could bring in an additional $65 million. But for now, sports betting is illegal under federal law. Hoskins said if that changes, the casinos could participate. 

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UPDATE: Despite Florida Supreme Court Ruling, Gadsden Looking to Authorize Slots in North Florida Again

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing saga of a north Florida county attempting to legalize slot machines. Florida law very clearly outlines the jurisdictions of where slot machines and other gambling are legal, and Gadsden county is not one. The issue of voter approved slot machines in not designated areas reached the Florida Supreme Court and they unanimously agreed Florida law prohibited such gambling venues. However, it appears a new bill has been filed to again allow Gadsden County to hold a referendum on authorizing slot machine gambling at the local race track. Florida Politics breaks down the attempted angle they are taking:

A unanimous Florida Supreme Court last year ruled against the track and facilities in seven other counties that previously passed local referendums allowing slots, saying “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.”

The holding was limited to non-charter counties, however. Gadsden does not have a charter but did pass a slots referendum in 2012. Tuesday’s bill responds to the court’s ruling that “the Legislature did not specifically authorize” that referendum.

It would OK the following ballot question: “Shall slot machine gaming be authorized at the pari-mutuel quarter horse racing facility in the City of Gretna?”

The issue was quickly addressed by Executive Direct of Florida group No Casinos, and Paul Seago was very to the point in his opposition:

“First, we think it violates the Florida Constitution, which prohibits expansion of casino gambling without a statewide vote,” he said. “Second, it sets up a violation of the compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe, jeopardizing millions of dollars in revenue.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida enjoys exclusive rights to offers slots outside of South Florida; breaking that exclusivity entitles the Tribe to reduce or stop paying a cut of its gambling revenue to the state.

“Third, any municipality that thinks casino gambling is a key to economic development need look no further than Atlantic City to see the associated crime and social ills that come with it,” Seago added. “For these reasons we will vigorously oppose HB 1111.”

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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. 

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