Category Archives: Slot Machines

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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UPDATE: Florida Decoupling Decision Draws Challenge

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to decouple dog racing from gambling venues, thus allowing them to operate stand alone slot machine gambling parlors. True decoupling efforts have been prevented, but the first approved case of de facto decoupling just happened in Florida. An old 1980 law was instrumental in the Magic City case and lead to the recent decoupling that will allow the facility to supplement actual races with jai alai matches. That ruling, however, is now being challenged, but its unclear if the challenge will be heard. The Miami CBS affiliate reports: 

Hartman and Tyner, Inc., and H&T Gaming, Inc., which run the Broward pari-mutuel, have filed a motion requesting that the Department of Businessand Professional Regulation vacate or reconsider the decision last month related to Magic City Casino in Miami.

The decision by the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering would allow Magic City, operated by WestFlagler Associates, to replace dog races with jai alai matches and continue offering lucrative slots. The approval dealt with a long-controversial issue known as a “summer jai alai” permit.

In their motion, attorneys for the Broward pari-mutuel’s operators said, in part, that their effort to intervene in the issue was improperly dismissed by the department. Also, they pointed to a 2004 constitutional amendment that allowed slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and contend that Magic City is only allowed to offer slots in conjunction with a greyhound-racing permit — not a summer jai alai permit.

“As an existing greyhound permit holder and slot machine gaming operator, intervenors (Hartman and Tyner and H&T Gaming) have a right to be heard as to how the constitutional and statutory provisions are being interpreted as it relates to allowing new permits to be used for expanding slot machine operations,” the motion said. “Intervenors assert that slot machine gaming at West Flagler’s facility pursuant to its summer jai alai permit should not be authorized and would be illegal.”

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Florida Casino Expansion denied in Gambling Permit Case

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the efforts to expand gambling in Florida. The state has an agreement with the Seminole’s to allow tribal casinos in state, but other gambling efforts are more small scale and limited to horse and dog racing as well as various pari-mutual gambling locations. Efforts also took place to bring full-scale, Vegas style casino’s to the area and those too were shut down. That hasn’t stopped outside companies from trying to find new ways into the Florida market. The most recent example involves the sale of a license with the intent to move a facility and expand gambling greatly. The Saint Peters Blog has explained those efforts and how they have been shut down:

State gambling regulators this week shot down a request by a South Florida gambling permit holder who wanted sell the permit and allow the next operator to build on a new location in Broward County.

The *Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Monday said both sales of permits and any relocation of gambling—both time-consuming processes—have to be OK’d by the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling in the state. The decision further cements the state’s control over where and how gambling is offered, particularly after a permit is granted.

The department’s “final order” also is a win for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which asked to intervene in the case. The Seminoles, who operate the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, had said allowing gambling licenses to be moved within a county “would provide out-of-state companies (with) an incentive to (buy) a license, possibly resulting in increased business competition for the Tribe.”

The company has a deal with an unnamed buy who was hoping to build a casino in a new location. The buyer knows it needs to relocate and build a new casino to be profitable, so this likely means the deal is off and there wont be significant new casino gambling expansion facing Florida families. 

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First Case of De Facto Decoupling Granted in Florida

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts of those in the dog racing industry to separate the need to continue to allow races as a requisite for allowing slot machines at their facilities. Florida law stated that slot machines were only allowed in certain counties and racing facilities. The dog and horse racing industries in Florida have been struggling. Few bet on the races, the greyhound industry has come under increased scrutiny for mistreatment or drugging of their animals and its been clear that slot machines are the only real think keeping the doors open. Those involved have been attempting to remove the racing requirement so they can simply offer slot machines instead of closing the tracks down. It now appears that one venue has succeeded at getting permission to decouple. The Miami Herald explains: 

Florida gambling regulators this week gave a Miami dog track permission to ditch greyhound races but keep more lucrative slot machines and card games, in a first-of-its-kind ruling.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Wednesday granted a request from West Flagler Associates, which operates Magic City Casino in Miami, to replace dog races with jai-alai matches, as part of a drawn-out legal dispute over a controversial “summer jai-alai” permit.

It’s the first time a pari-mutuel facility has been allowed to drop dog or horse races and continue operating slots. 

This isn’t the result of new legislation or action taken by gambling administrators, as much as it is an application of an old 1980 law. But it does signal that legislators are willing to consider more wide spread decoupling legislation in future. The Miami Herald continues:

The Magic City decision is rooted in a 1980 Florida law that allows pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that have the lowest betting handle for two consecutive years to convert to summer jai-alai permits. But if those pari-mutuels do not seek conversion, other facilities can seek the permits. The Miami dog track’s lawyer, John Lockwood, first sought the summer jai-alai permit for Magic City in 2011.

After much legal wrangling, the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering denied the track’s request to do away with dog races, launch jai-alai games and keep lucrative slots that the track began operating after voters signed off on the machines in 2004. But the 3rd District Court of Appeal ordered gambling regulators to reconsider the issue.

In a declaratory statement issued Wednesday, state regulators said Florida law gives the track the green light to do away with dog races, as long as the jai-alai matches take place at the same facility where the current greyhound permit is operated.

 The agency’s decision won’t have broad implications but comes as lawmakers consider a push by gambling operators who want to do away with live dog and horse racing while holding onto slots or card rooms.

“It’s pretty clear that the department intends for this to not have any far-reaching effects, but once again, John Lockwood has masterfully used a unique set of circumstances to create a positive outcome for his client,” Scott Ross, a former deputy secretary at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation who is now a lobbyist representing other gambling operators, said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Hopefully this was just legal maneuvering and the skill of a lobbyist with connections, but its best to make your opinion known to local representatives.

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Florida Judge Changes ruling on Pre-reveal slot machines

Casino Watch Focus has reported on a new waive of machines that could have drastically changed the gambling landscape in Florida. The machines in question are known as pre-reveal machines, and they are basically slot machines that show you the next spin. Initially, a Florida judge ruled that if you know the outcome then its not gambling because the player gets a preview of what result will come up with the spin. This meant that any establishment could offer these slot machines with no regulation or license required. The judge was urged to reexamine what the machines do. Those familiar with the machines operation explained that even though the player knows the move that’s about to come, they are actually placing a bet on what comes after that move. After a closer look, the Miami Herald is reporting that the judge has changed his mind and these types of slot machines will constitute illegal gambling in not approved and state regulated venues:

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled Monday that the electronic devices, in use in bars, strip malls and convenience stores throughout the state, violate a law banning slot machines outside of approved sites. Cooper held the hearing after Florida gambling regulators and the Seminole Tribe asked him to reconsider a March ruling in which he authorized the games.

Cooper originally sided with the manufacturer and the distributor of the machines, finding that they don’t violate prohibitions against slots because the games include a “preview” feature advising players of the outcome “before the player commits any money to the game by activating the ‘play’ button.”

But on Monday, Cooper said he had erred. “He said he was convinced he had made the wrong decision. He said he made a mistake and he felt these machines were slot machines within the meaning of the statute,” Barry Richard, who represents the Seminole Tribe, told The News Service of Florida after Monday’s hearing.

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UPDATE: Florida Supreme Court Rules Against County Approved Slot Machine Referendums

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to expand gambling through slot machine referendums in jurisdictions where the legislature has not approved them. They key case involved a voter approved referendum in Gadsden County. Creek Entertainment Grenta lawyers claimed that because the people voted for slot machines in their county and there was a facility in the county, a previous rule change by the legislature opened the door for referendums like theirs. The State argued that the legislature must expressly allow a county to have slot machines and no where in the law does it allow for counties to simply vote them into existence. The implications of the case are huge as many counties in the state followed and would try to follow suit. The Florida Times-Union reports:

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the state’s denial of slot machine licenses in a county where slots were approved in a voter referendum. The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling concluded that state law does not allow local referendums in these counties to determine whether slots can be allowed there.

The ruling in the Gadsden County case also affects Duval, where voters approved a slots initiative in November. The state also denied Bestbet Jacksonville’s application for slots licenses at its Arlington facility. Voters in six other counties where slots referendums were approved will also be impacted by the ruling.

The anti-gambling group No Casinos celebrated the ruling. It is also backing a ballot initiative in 2018 that asks Florida voters to further limit the expansion of gambling. “We scored a partial victory with this ruling today and intend to score a complete victory with the Voters in Charge initiative in 2018,’’ No Casinos President John Sowinski said in a statement. “The people of Florida should have the final say on whether or not to legalize casino-style gambling.”

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UPDATE: Judge Could Reconsider Slot Machine Ruling Involving New “Pre-reveal” Style Slot Machines

Casino Watch Focus has reported on a new wave of machines that could drastically change the gambling landscape in Florida. The machines are known as pre-reveal machines and they are basically just slot machines that show the result before the player pulls the handle. This preview screen is why the Judge ruled it was a game of skill and not a game of chance and thus didn’t fall under existing slot machine restrictions and regulations. However, many disagree with such a ruling and are worried that these machines will expand gambling in a terrible way. Now, it appears, the Judge may be open to revising is ruling as the Seminole Tribe has provided some key analysis and motion to the court. Florida Politics online reports: 

Judge John Cooper set a hearing for June 19 in the Leon County Courthouse, court dockets show, after the *Seminole Tribe of Florida asked to intervene. The move also puts a hold on an appeal filed in the 1st District Court of Appeal by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), which regulates gambling. The Tribe**will argue that Cooper’s decision “upends the Compact,” the 2010 agreement between the Tribe and the state for exclusive rights to offer certain gambling in return for a cut of the revenue. That could cost the state “multi-billions of dollars.”

“The court’s decision would lead to an unprecedented expansion of slot machine gambling in the state, destroying the exclusivity that the Tribe bargained for,” says a memo by Barry Richard, the Tribe’s outside counsel in Tallahassee. As one person in Florida’s gambling industry, who asked not to be named, said after the ruling, “I see a giant wave coming … My phone is blowing up from people (at pari-mutuels) who want” pre-reveal games.

In addition to the exclusivity agreement not being taken into account, they are also pointing out the general misunderstanding the Judge faced when rationalizing how the games worked and why it might be skill rather than chance. Florida Politics continues:

In his memo, Richard suggested Cooper misunderstood the game play: “The player is not wagering for the already revealed outcome, but rather on the next outcome, which is unknown.

“Players are not … merely spending money to see spinning reels and flashing lights,” Richard wrote. “Rather, it is a slot machine, with which players are wagering on an unknown, unpredictable outcome” that they may or may not win. Other states, including Indiana and *North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling, he added.

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