Social casino

How to make sure your social casino site isn't gambling

Thibault Richard-Folian, COO at Replay Poker, discusses how casual game operators can overcome the issue of virtual chips representing something of value 

For many years, social casino operators have believed there is a clear, dividing line between the games they offer and those available on real-money casino and poker sites. But a recent ruling in Washington has somewhat blurred those lines.

Back in March, a federal appeals court ruled that Big Fish Game’s Big Fish Casino fell foul of Washington State gambling law because its virtual chips represented something of value.

Wider implications

The wider implications of the ruling are as yet unknown, but regardless, it should cause social gaming operators to sit up and pay attention, and to also take measures now to ensure they protect themselves from similar cases in the future. Indeed, small tweaks to the way chips are offered to players should skirt the issue entirely.

The issue with Big Fish Casino under Washington law is that in order to have the privilege to access games, players must have a certain number of chips. These chips can be purchased with real-money, and therefore represent something of value.

To overcome this, operators should ensure that players always have chips – even if it is a nominal amount. Here at Replay Poker, we have a system whereby when a player’s chip count drops below 500, they automatically receive 2,500 chips in their wallet.

We do impose some restrictions, however. If players are regularly dropping below 500 chips and taking the free chips we offer, we impose time restrictions on when the chips are added to their wallet, and how many chips they receive.

This is not just to encourage players to purchase more chips, but to encourage players to be more thoughtful and considered in the way they play. We go to great lengths to prevent bingo-style strategies with players going all-in as it is disruptive to other players.

An easy workaround

Of course, our model would also likely fall foul of Washington state law, but there is an easy workaround. Social casino operators could allow players to top up with a nominal amount of chips so that they could still access games, but in a restricted way.

For example, we could offer 100 chips to players whenever they dropped below 500. This would allow them to access Replay Poker, but would seriously limit the tables they could play at and the length of time they would be able to play without paying for additional chips.

In the eyes of the law, however, they would always have the privilege to play, and the chips would no longer represent something of value – while players would still have the option to purchase chips, they would always be able to obtain them for free.

The other solution, and this is perhaps better suited to social poker than social casino, would be to offer all players the ability to play with their friends on a private table or tournament at any time. They would play with separate chips that would always be available to them.

These are small changes social casino operators can make now to prove to lawmakers they are doing the right thing. Of course, this may just be an isolated case that has little to no impact on the wider industry moving forwards.

Perhaps more importantly, the case could indicate that consumers – one, at least – are not entirely happy with the way virtual chips are currently awarded. Most understand the free to play model, but operators could be a little more generous in the top-ups they offer.

It is something we have always done at Replay Poker, and still manage to strike the balance between player experience and profits.

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