🔥 The hidden cost of those 'free' gambling apps - CNET

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And that may be the biggest problem, said John Kindt, a gambling critic and professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He started playing Zynga Poker, a slot machine game, last year. There are potentially many more Bretts out there. Gainsbury, the gambling researcher, estimates the games will draw million people worldwide by Those audiences are opening their wallets for the games too. Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal teamed up with a company called PlayStudios in March to lend his likeness to two social casino games that are included in the company's MyVegas app: Caddy Shaq, a slot machine game, and ShaqJack, a blackjack title. For Liz Wooley, the games highlight an emerging and little-known social problem relating to video game addiction. They bet with the game's play money and, if they run out, they can spend real-world dollars to get more. Brett said gambling apps shouldn't be so pervasive, particularly because they make it harder for him and other gambling addicts to stay clean. But when he got sucked into that game, he became a different person. But he craved the excitement that came with betting real money. His solution: Move social casino apps to a separate section of app stores, so it's less likely a player will find them just by swiping through their home page. That's when he, and his parents, decided he needed to get into a recovery program. O'Neal said he likes the games because they help make learning math skills fun. Many worries about the future weigh on Brett as he works his way through a gambling addiction program. It's definitely an issue. Still, the freemium model presents a challenge. Ardalan Raghian , Matthew Renda. It wasn't long before his habit expanded to social casino games. They say the stories of harm stem from abuse. He ought to know: O'Neal said he often plays the games during downtime between watching and analyzing playoff basketball games. Developers and industry advocates of social casino games say these apps aren't as dangerous as critics charge. This past July, social casino games regularly made up a quarter of the top 20 highest-grossing apps in the Google Play Store, according to App Annie, a market analytics company. Lawrence trains his clients to pick games where there aren't continual pop-ups for buyable extras, saying they can trigger the addiction. Discussion threads can be closed at any time at our discretion. Enlarge Image. The global audience for casino apps on smartphones reached an average of million monthly active users between July and June excluding Asia, which has not been recorded and makes up a quarter of the global market , according to SuperData Research. The key difference is players can't win real cash. But they're nothing compared with the biggest threat he'll face: his smartphone, and the many casino-style games available with a quick tap at an app store. We delete comments that violate our policy , which we encourage you to read. Played on a mobile device or PC, even via Facebook's website, such games mimic the slot machines and card games in casinos. Discuss: The hidden cost of those 'free' gambling apps Sign in to comment Be respectful, keep it civil and stay on topic.{/INSERTKEYS}{/PARAGRAPH} Addicts who encounter the games on their own, without the sort of guidance Lawrence offers, may not have that strength. He even recommended MyVegas to his five children, ranging from 9 years old to 19 years old. The lure is simple: Pull in gamers with free play and, once they're engaged, entice them to pay for extras, such as virtual money, gifts and more turns. Apple's App Store showed similar statistics for the month, with social casino apps consistently nabbing three spots in the top Though the games can be played for free, revenues from purchases of in-game extras reel in millions for the biggest publishers. The games alone aren't the only thing attracting customers. These games, made for mobile devices, sparked Brett's gambling addiction. Wooley said her son was addicted, and that made him depressed as well. Part of how he got hooked was the "freemium" nature of social casino titles -- a tactic that has become a lucrative new way of doing business within the video game industry. Developers have hired high-profile celebrities to help to endorse them as well. Before long, he was placing bets in a brick-and-mortar casino, much to his financial detriment. Spokespeople for Zynga declined to comment, while those for Caesars Interactive Entertainment and Big Fish Games did not respond to requests for comment. Don't show this again. Spokespeople for Google and Apple, which run the most popular app stores, declined to comment. Tony Lawrence, a year-old recovering gambling addict, and a counselor at the Aboriginal Gambling Help Service in Adelaide, Australia, says he's used social casino games as a teaching tool for himself and his clients. Revenues from mobiles accounted for 61 percent of the total market during the quarter, compared with 50 percent in the prior year period. For casino game makers, that's translated into a monthly audience more than three and a half times bigger than the masses who visited Las Vegas in all of last year. Wooley founded Online Gamers Anonymous after her year-old son committed suicide in following two years he spent playing a game called EverQuest, an Internet fantasy game. Brett's gambling problem began a few years ago with bets on National Basketball Association games, followed by wagers on other professional sports. Video games are more popular today than they ever have been, and their influence continues to grow. {PARAGRAPH}{INSERTKEYS}Some of the most downloaded and highest-grossing video games in leading app stores use casino motifs for their designs, raising questions about the potential dangers of gambling apps. Be respectful, keep it civil and stay on topic. The hidden cost of those 'free' gambling apps Some of the most downloaded and highest-grossing video games in leading app stores use casino motifs for their designs, raising questions about the potential dangers of gambling apps. The year-old's biggest worry after his release from the three-month program in California: encountering people, places and things that might trigger his urge to gamble.