Time for Not-Quite Online Gaming!

It seems like nearly everyone wants to start gambling on the Internet. Except, of course, for those pesky legislators keeping it illegal. Players want it, and go to overseas sites for what they can’t get domestically. Game-makers also want it, and create pseudo-gambling games that test how close to the real thing the law will permit. And in the future, those sites will allow players to bet real money as soon as it becomes legal.

One of the game-makers betting on this is PlayStudios, which recently partnered with MGM Resorts International to launch the Facebook game myVEGAS, one of a growing number of games based on a social platform. MyVEGAS features virtual MGM Resorts casinos within the game and awards real-world prizes—including hotel stays and show tickets—that can be collected at the actual MGM Resorts properties here. The game itself is mostly a series of dreadfully easy-to-play cartoon slot machines (in case anyone has trouble, a host pops up to demonstrate how to click the “play” button). Unfortunately, the game requires Flash, so it won’t run on most mobile phones. Even on a computer, it’s somewhat slow and buggy—although it’s still in beta mode, so hopefully that will get fixed before the full launch.

What makes myVEGAS interesting is how it combines social gaming with gambling. Because online gambling is illegal, the prizes are not awarded based on the outcome of the games, but instead on how long someone plays. Players start with a limited number of virtual coins to play the slot machines. When they lose those, the game encourages them to purchase more—with real money. It remains to be seen whether the Nevada Gaming Control Board will allow this, or consider it too close to actual gambling and shut it down, as it has other casino-sponsored online pseudo-gambling games.

Regardless of what happens with this particular game, though, it’s clear that the race is on. Casinos and game-makers aren’t waiting for online gambling to become legal, but are instead betting that virtual social gambling games such as this one will pre-emptively attract participants. That way, when online gambling is eventually legalized, these casinos will already have an established user-base of players ready to go.