April 17, 2013

Is anything really free on the Internet?

My view – Jan Zacharias

Most of the sites that you see advertised in Canada promote play on Internet sites where you can gamble for fun and learn how to play a variety of games.

These sites offer free tutorials on a variety of games and talk about teaching poker strategy. They help potential players understand a variety of poker terms such as the blind, the flop, or a button.

They often feature celebrities with testimonials about how they have made their fortune gambling. For instance, one such celebrity calls himself “The Grinder,” and brags about his recent $1.85-million win. There is no age requirement to play on these sites.

So where’s the harm? How can someone, even a kid, get into trouble on these sites if they aren’t wagering any money? Even though these sites don’t require a player to wager to play, there are a variety of risks associated with play on these sites that most people aren’t aware of.

The first risk and perhaps the most dangerous, involves the manipulation of the odds of winning. Since Internet gambling is banned in Canada, sites aren’t monitored and regulated. What this means is that sites don’t have to advertise the odds of winning at their games, unlike gambling at a regulated site promoted by the B.C. Lottery Corp.

Even if they do advertise the odds of winning, there is no way to guarantee the accuracy of the information. Most Internet sites that promote playing for free (.net) actually increase the odds of winning as compared to their play-for-money (.com) sites.

What this does is lend the player the illusion that winning at gambling is easy. This is a very dangerous illusion, particularly for kids.

These .net sites exist to groom future players. Remember, like other forms of gambling, the purpose of Internet sites is to make a profit for their owners. Therefore, these .net sites have easy links to their sister .com sites where money is required in order to play.

Often these .com sites lure future players away from the free sites by offering the m free bets or credits to start their play. People who have learned the games on the .net sites, where winning is easy, now take that illusion to the pay-to-play sites. As well, many promotions are offered on the .net sites that aren’t actually available to players unless they are enrolled on their sister .com site.

Another danger to consider when playing on the .net sites taps into the psychology of gambling. Winning, which is easy to do on the .net sites, often becomes commonplace and doesn’t give the player the same thrill that It did in the beginning. What many players do then is gravitate to the .com sites where the need to place a wager increases the value of winning. And often to get the same thrill over time, placing large and larger bets is required. Some have even referred to these .net sites as gateway sites with the purpose of promoting gambling on the .com sites.

Increasingly realistic graphics and interactivity makes Internet gambling an appealing transfer for kids from the world of video games. What they don’t understand Is that the skill involved at winning a video game has absolutely no relevance to winning at poker. Poker is generally considered to be a game of 80 percent chance and 20 percent skill or a game of mixed chance and skill, whereas video games involve mostly skill and very little chance.

As well, people who already spend a significant amount of time playing video games for amusement may be at higher risk of developing problem gambling behaviors.

Next time, I will focus on Internet sites where you pay to play and review the many risks associated with these sites.

published on 09/08/2006