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Free-to-Play Casinos Under Fire in New Zealand

Free-to-play casinos and casino games have long been a tool in the marketing toolbox of gaming operators across the globe. Some of these casinos are standalone entities that offer free casino games for casual players and sell chips to those who are a little more serious. Other free-to-play casinos are gateways to traditional online gaming sites with limited free games and plenty of opportunities for depositing real cash.

It’s the latter model that’s getting some unwanted attention in New Zealand from both the media and the government.

Jackpot City, a Gibraltar-based operator, is under fire after a series of expose articles in a website called Spinoff.nz, showed how free-to-play casinos sometimes front for real-money casinos. None of the marketing techniques described in the article are illegal under New Zealand law, but the author of the article worries that the free-to-play model, along with withdrawal delays, are traps designed to ensnare problem gamblers.

The article has caught the attention of Tracey Martin, New Zealand’s Minister for Internal Affairs. Martin is currently leading an effort to update Kiwi gaming regulations to help stem the free-to-play/real money pipeline. In an effort to prove she’s really serious about the whole matter, she’s also urging New Zealand citizens to call their credit card companies to urge them to stop doing business with these types of operators.

So far the effort is in its nascent stage, but it’s definitely picking up steam. And New Zealand isn’t the only place where this business model is under fire. A federal judge in Washington State recently ruled that Big Fish, a US-based free-to-play site, should be considered a real gambling site because its chips had value. That ruling has caused great consternation among US-facing free-to-play operators as the Washington ruling seems to be picking up support in other states.

In short, the free-to-play casino model is under fire and may not be the solid marketing tool it once was.

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