Tag Archives: gambling

Ontario stops funding problem gambling research agency, orders closure

The Ontario government has eliminated funding to an organization that researches problem gambling, ordering it to wind down operations by the summer.

Gambling Research Exchange Ontario was told last month that its entire $ 2.5 million annual budget had been cut by the province.

It will have to cease operations by mid-July and 14 staff members will lose their jobs.

The agency says it provides resources to prevent problem gambling that are used by front-line service providers including the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission.

The cut comes as the Progressive Conservative government looks at ways to expand online gambling and has said it will allow free alcohol at casinos to allow operators to better compete with their American counterparts.

The government said it was making the cut so that it could focus on delivery of front-line services.

The CEO of Gambling Research Exchange Ontario said the organization is disappointed it won’t be able to continue the work its done for 20 years. The knowledge and research built up over that time could be lost, said Trudy Smit Quosai.

“Ontario has been an international leader prior to this and … people have looked to (us) as a model to minimize harm from gambling,” she said. “We’re hoping to find ways to keep the work of GREO going but we are concerned about that being lost.”

Opposition calls cut ‘short-sighted’

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government is committed to an “effective and respectful” closure of the organization.

“As part of our commitment to redirect all available resources to the front lines, we have made the decision to wind down certain research programs,” Hayley Chazen said in a statement.

The government continues to spend approximately $ 33 million a year on problem gambling prevention programs, she said.

NDP addictions and mental health critic Bhutila Karpoche called the cut “short-sighted.”

“We know that the Gambling Research Exchange supports front-line agencies,” she said. “It’s really a harm reduction tool. Reducing harm reduction services is the wrong way to go.”

Karpoche said the government should be expanding supports that address problem gambling as it pushes ahead with its plan to offer more ways to gamble.

“I think at the end of the day the government has to realize cuts have consequences,” she said. “The cuts that the government is making are hurting the people of Ontario.”

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Study: Loot Boxes Are ‘Psychologically Akin to Gambling’

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Microtransactions like loot boxes are a big part of modern gaming to the point that most of EA’s revenue comes from these mechanics. It’s not alone, either. Governments around the world are taking a closer look at these money-making features to determine whether or not they constitute gambling. Some countries like Belgium and The Netherlands have already decided they are, and Australia might be headed in that direction according to a new government report.

The Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee (ECRC) conducted a survey of more than 7,400 gamers in the country to determine how they respond to “chance-based” items in games. The ECRC presented the results of the study during a public hearing in Canberra this week. As you might expect, the study supports the idea that loot boxes are “psychologically akin to gambling.”

According to the ECRC, the levels of spending and state of mind seen in heavy loot crate purchasers is very similar to those who gamble in more traditional ways. Gamblers chase the emotional high of a big win by pumping more and more money into a game of chance. Since loot crates award items randomly, gamers get stuck in a similar cycle.

This isn’t just an academic distinction. The ECRC says loot boxes can have deleterious effects on vulnerable players. The report says that those who spend the most on in-game microtransactions are more likely to suffer from addiction to traditional gambling. By the same token, gamblers can get their fix with loot boxes instead of a few rounds of cards. It’s not the same as, for example, collecting baseball cards. 

Battlefront-Pic

The payment mechanics in Battlefront 2 were so bad that governments have started investigating.

The committee offered several potential restrictions on loot boxes but not an outright ban. These games could end up restricted to those aged 18 and older (the legal gambling age in Australia). The ECRC also suggests titles with loot boxes carry a warning about the presence of chance-based items and the dangers of gambling. However, these are all just suggestions — Australia has not taken up any legislation on the matter, and no rule-making body has weighed in yet.

Whether or not Australia decides loot boxes are gambling, the tide seems to be turning against this form of monetization. EA kicked off the current round of investigations when it integrated obnoxious pay-to-win mechanics into Star Wars: Battlefront II. While it backed down and removed those elements, it may have spoiled the party for other publishers like Blizzard and 2K. EA has refused to pull microtransactions in Belgium, potentially setting up a legal battle to decide the matter.

Now read: Battlefront II Investigated in Belgium as EA’s Reddit AMA BombsEA Frantically Defends Loot Crates in Battlefront II as Gamers Strike Back, and Star Citizen Unveils $ 27,000 Content Pack, Because of Course

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Belgium Decides Loot Boxes Are Illegal Gambling

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Video game publishers have been pushing loot boxes and other microtransactions for years, but the release of Star Wars Battlefront II in 2017 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Gamers complained loudly and often about the expensive loot boxes and “pay-to-win” mechanics harming the gaming experience. Some even pointed out how similar loot boxes were to gambling, and that got governments around the world interested. Are loot boxes gambling? Belgium has decided that, yes, they are.

Electronic Arts seemed caught off-guard by the negative reaction to Battlefront II during the beta. Players noted that the random loot crates could only be purchased with premium in-game currency, and that means you have to spend money. Unlike many other games, items like Star Cards in Star Wars loot crates could vastly change the gameplay experience. In fact, it would take 40 hours of grinding to unlock some of the most sought-after hero characters in Battlefront II if you didn’t pay for loot boxes.

Several US states and EU countries began investigating loot boxes in video games in the wake of Battlefront II. EA took loot boxes out of the game to assuage fans, but that hasn’t saved other publishers. In the Netherlands, regulators recently decided that loot boxes are a form of gambling and have demanded that such mechanics are removed.

The Belgian Gaming Commission investigated Star Wars Battlefront II, FIFA 18, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. In a humorous turn of events, the only game the commission didn’t hammer is Battlefront — EA still doesn’t have any loot boxes in the game. All the others, according to regulators, constitute illegal gambling. Minister of Justice Koen Geens was especially concerned about how children would be affected by loot boxes. Legislation always aims to keep kids from coming in contact with gambling, but loot boxes are all over video games that kids might play.

Belgium is being less heavy-handed than the Dutch, who gave companies until June 20th to remove loot boxes. The Belgian Gaming Commission has requested information from publishers and developers to determine who is responsible for removing the loot boxes. If the industry doesn’t comply, responsible individuals could face up to five years in prison and fines of €800,000. It might take time to pull these elements from games, and doing so could result in gameplay balance issues. The games were designed to have loot boxes after all. Perhaps publishers will think twice about including loot boxes in future games if regulators continue to treat them like a slot machine.

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Battlefront II Loot Crates Declared Gambling, Investigated in Hawaii

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EA continues to take a hammering on all fronts over Battlefront II, and the game isn’t going to be helped by declarations from Belgium and Hawaii. Belgium, after announcing it would investigate whether Battlefront II’s use of loot crates constituted gambling, has decided that they will.

“The mixing of money and addiction is gambling,” a spokesperson for the commission told Belgian news site VTM (translation via Eurogamer). “It will require time, because we need to go to Europe with this. We will absolutely try to forbid it.”

To date, most nations have reached opposite conclusions, on the idea that gambling is only gambling if the player is receiving something of intrinsic value. The rise of loot crates and earlier Steam controversies regarding the sale of various skins seems to blow holes in that theory. Players may be spending real money in the hopes of acquiring virtual loot, but they’re still spending money in the hopes of “winning” a lottery.

Meanwhile, two Hawaiian state legislators are looking into similar bans or legal requirements that would prevent EA or other game publishers from deploying similar models in the future.

“We are here today to ensure future protection to kids, youth and everyone when it comes to the spread of predatory practices in online ingredients and the significant financial consequences it can have on families and has been having on families of this nation,” said Hawaiian state representative Chris Lee during a press conference. “This game is a Star Wars themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It’s a trap.”

The question of whether loot crates should be considered gambling has a number of facets. First, loot crates, by design, rely on what’s known as a variable ratio reward system. In a variable ratio reward system, players don’t know if they’ll received desired items after they purchase one, five, or 50 loot crates. All they know is that if they buy enough loot crates, they’ll eventually receive the items or enhancements they’re looking for. Research has repeatedly shown that variable ratio reward systems induce high, persistent rates of response more reliably than any other method. It’s also the method used by slot machines, lotteries, and roulette — all of which we recognize as gambling.

Second, all loot in Battlefront II is controlled by loot crates, and all loot crate contents are completely random. EA’s decision to temporarily cancel its pay-to-win system just hours before it launched gave it no time to design an alternative. Even with the P2W system disabled, there’s still no way to earn Star Cards save by grinding credits, and the Star Cards inside loot crates have an enormous impact on how well you’ll survive against other players. It’s also very time-consuming to grind credits, which is why some players have already taken to hacking the system to earn minimum credits per match via a bunch of rubber bands.

To be clear, EA’s current, microtransaction-free version of the game can’t qualify as gambling, since you literally can’t buy chances to open loot crates. But so long as the company maintains that its microtransaction suspension is temporary, it’s fair to evaluate how the system was designed to work and how it’ll work in the future if reactivated.

Battlefront 2

EA made multiple mistakes with Battlefield II. It designed a loot system that was almost entirely based on pay-to-win mechanics, then divorced pay-to-win from any core gameplay competency. Polygon has details on how this plays out:

[W]hen you start the game, only one of those card slots is open. In order to unlock the additional two slots you have to increase the level of your Star Cards. Not the level of your main account, mind you, but the level of the random cards you get from the game’s loot crates…You’ve got two options for leveling your Star Cards: either buy more loot crates or craft higher level cards. But you can’t craft higher level cards until you reach level 10 on your main profile!

Polygon goes on to discuss how, despite ranking highly on the leaderboards game after game, Battlefront II requires you to serve as cannon fodder against vastly better geared opponents before you can craft Star Cards that give you a fighting chance against them.

The current state of the Battlefront II economy illustrates how deeply broken the game’s progression system was from the start. There’s always a skill gap between new players and old hands in any title, but the various Battlefield games regularly offered ways to compensate for being a newbie. Not great at playing infantry? Hop into a ground vehicle and provide ground support. Not great at scoring kills? Play an engineer and use your rocket launcher and repair tools to knock out enemy aircraft and tanks while fixing your own. All indications suggest these roles aren’t as balanced in Battlefront II, possibly because EA spent more time dreaming up ways to screw its players and less time grappling with how to offer an interesting and fun gaming experience.

We don’t know how well Battlefront II is selling, but reports from the UK suggest its physical media sales were down 60 percent compared with Star Wars Battlefront. The new one is certainly not a game we’d recommend. While the single-player campaign has been well-received (if short), there’s no way to know how the economy will change in the future. Until EA announces concrete plans, we’d stick to games known to be more respectful of your time and money — which is basically all of them.

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'It was a job to him': Las Vegas gunman's gambling records examined by investigators

Authorities trying to piece together the final days before Stephen Paddock unleashed his arsenal of powerful firearms on country music fans at a Las Vegas concert have at least one potential trove of information: his gambling habits.

Nevada gambling regulators say they’re sorting through documents for clues about him and his girlfriend, Marilou Danley. Those can include suspicious transaction or currency reports, as well as information from a player’s rewards card, which the casinos use to track their gambling and offer perks.

Paddock’s brother has described the gunman as a high-stakes video poker player who routinely was “comped” casino hotel rooms, meals and drinks — meaning they were given to him free.

“He was a substantial gambler. It was a job to him,” Eric Paddock said.

A person who has seen Mandalay Bay hotel records that have been turned over to investigators said Wednesday they show Paddock was given a free room on the 32nd floor because he was a good customer who wagered tens of thousands of dollars each time he visited. The individual was not authorized to speak publicly and disclosed the information to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

LASVEGAS-SHOOTING/

Paola Bautista, 39, from Fontana, Calif., was among the wounded in the mass shooting at the Route 91 music festival. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The massacre has brought new attention to the world of high-limit video poker and casino comps for high-rollers so they can keep them gambling. The biggest gamblers — often known as whales — can get such perks as chartered planes, butlers and free lodging at a $ 35,000-a-night villa. (All figures in U.S. dollars)

Paddock’s brother said his brother gambled enough that he was given free rooms, poolside cabanas and high-end sushi meals exceeding $ 1,000.

“He won cars and $ 250,000 cheques and all this stuff from the hotel,” Eric Paddock said.

High-dollar video poker

Video poker machines are a mainstay at casinos around Nevada. Most machines are placed in bars where gamblers can play poker from their stools for 25 cents a hand. They look similar to slot machines.

Stephen Paddock favoured the high-dollar variety version of the game, whose machines are separate from the main video poker and slot areas. These players use strategies that can minimize the house winnings and in some cases gain a minuscule mathematical advantage.

Michael Shackleford, who runs a gambling strategy website called The Wizard of Odds, said based on what is known of Paddock’s life, the gunman seems to have been what the casinos refer to as a “premium mass” player — one who bets in higher amounts, with a better understanding of the game than the typical player.

Premium mass players pay close attention to the odds in the game they’re playing and the payout, and they typically need access to a lot of money because they may have long dry spells where they lose exorbitant amounts.

LASVEGAS-SHOOTING/

A girl looks at a makeshift memorial for shooting victims, on the Las Vegas strip and Sahara Avenue. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus)

Eventually, Shackleford said, if players stay true to a perfect strategy — one designed to maximize their performance over the long haul, such as by getting rid of potentially decent cards like low pairs to increase chances of a big-payout royal flush — their luck will turn, based on statistics, and they’ll break even or come close to it. When you add in the freebies from the casino, the player can come out ahead.

“Vegas is full of people that are basically just gambling for free,” Shackleford said. “I think the shooter was one of these people who was basically milking the system, getting free vacations.”

Why do the casinos have games where the players can come out ahead?

“It’s because there are so many bad players,” Shackleford said. “For every skilled player, there are probably 100 lousy players. They subsidize the skilled players.”

The stress of having so much on the line isn’t for everyone, he said.

“In any form of gambling, you need a strong stomach and you need to have a very cool head about the ups and down,” he said. “If this guy was a millionaire, it’s quite possible he was not bothered by the ups and down. He probably had steel nerves and was a difficult person to move emotionally.”

Earning reward points

It’s unknown how much Paddock was wagering, but he apparently had been spending more than $ 10,000 a day in some cases.

A.G. Burnett, the head of Nevada’s Gaming Control Board, said investigators are looking for enforcement actions, for any disputes Paddock may have had as a casino patron and at any federally required currency reports of transactions he made greater than $ 10,000.

Authorities have said Paddock used Danley’s loyalty rewards card with MGM Resorts International. The tiered program allows players to accumulate credits and get perks such as bonuses on points earned playing slots, priority hotel check-in and — for those who belong to the highest and by-invitation-only level — limousine service to and from the airport.

The casinos “know whether he lost money because he never would have gambled for a second without putting the card in,” Eric Paddock said.

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