New Jersey betting on skill-based games
for real-money gambling; huge untapped market seen
CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Sure you love matching little candy pieces with
each other, or spelling out words with your pals. But New Jersey
regulators want to let you do it for real money.
The state Division of Gaming
Enforcement says it is seeking game developers' proposals to conduct
real-money gambling on skill-based games
, which would make New Jersey
a nationwide laboratory for a betting phenomenon many have predicted
will become the next big thing.
And because of its vast potential
reach, some are worried that the addictive nature of the games and
their easy availability on smartphones and tablets could cause some
people to get in way over their heads when the money is real. But New
Jersey sees it as another way to help its struggling casino industry.
"More and more we've been watching
the social gaming arena and hearing about the opportunities it
presents," said David Rebuck, director of New Jersey's Division
of Gaming Enforcement. "We thought, 'Wait a minute: why aren't
these companies coming to us?' We are ready, willing and able, under
existing law, to deal with this. This is not theoretical anymore;
this is real."
Eric Meyerhofer, CEO of Gamblit Gaming,
which adds gambling components to familiar social games, says the
potential market in the United States for such betting is $8 billion
to $10 billion.
"Casual games are played in such abundance
across such a wide demographic," he said. "We think there's
quite a large market for this."
Players could face off against one
another to compete for a prize, with the casino taking a fixed
percentage of it.
Game developers would have to partner
with one of Atlantic City's eight casinos, in the same way that
Internet gambling providers must do. And like online gamblers,
players of real-money skill games must be physically located within
New Jersey's borders. (New Jersey can approach other jurisdictions
about multi-state gambling compacts if there's enough interest.)
Nevada is considering a similar plan, and other countries including
England and Mexico are testing similar technology.
Currently, most games offer free play
up to certain limits. From there, players can buy additional chances
to play or equipment to use in the game. Ashley Feinberg, a staff
writer at Gizmodo.com, quickly burned through $286 in less than a
month buying additional play time on Candy Crush Saga.
"It's all very high-reward; you
get sucked in and there's this big reward and then it goes away and
you keep trying to get it back," she said. "Unless you
actually seek out how much you're actually spending on this, it goes
like nothing. It feels like Monopoly money."
After writing her first-person account,
Feinberg kicked the habit — for a while.
"Then it went back downhill,"
she said, adding she doesn't know how much the second binge has cost
"I'm scared to look," she
Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars
Entertainment, has long lamented that people spend millions of
dollars on games like Farmville — where they buy equipment for a
virtual farm — with none of that money going to his company.
"Millennials typically find
traditional slot machines boring because there's little or no skill
involved; they'd much rather play games were there's an element of
skill and the opportunity to socialize or compete with friends while
doing so," said Caesars spokesman Gary Thompson. "It's
clear skill-based games are going to be a big part of the industry's
Les Bernal, national director of Stop
Predatory Gambling, is worried New Jersey could be creating a new
generation of problem gamblers.
"State officials know the future
of New Jersey's casinos hinges on luring kids to develop a gambling
habit," he said, adding that by taking games that thousands of
young people already play and turning them into gambling games
state is trying to create a new generation of gamblers to exploit.
Players would fund an account that
would be good for in-person play on a casino floor, or remotely via a
smartphone, tablet or computer. While details still need to be worked
out, the games have to meet complex rules incorporating minimum
payout standards that apply to slot machines
, while also providing
for the variable element of player skill.
So far, some of the biggest names are
taking a pass. Zynga, which makes Words With Friends, has said it
doesn't favor real-money gambling on its platforms, preferring to
focus on free-play. King Digital Entertainment, the makers of Candy
Crush Saga, said it "does not have any plans to license Candy
Crush Saga or any of our other games for use in casino slot machines
or for any form of gambling."