When Worlds Collide: Video Games and Gambling

Since you are here on our site, we already know you love to gamble — or are looking to get into it. But are you also into playing video games?

If the answer is “yes,” you probably are already aware of some of the increasing overlap between the worlds of video games and gambling, and may be curious to find out more.

This is Texas Hold’em being played in Red Dead Redemption 2. As you may or may not know, video game gambling has moved leaps and bounds!

If you do not play video games, this topic may be entirely new to you, but should interest you. Over recent years, the landscapes of video games and gambling have been evolving
together, presenting new opportunities that you may want to take advantage of.

In this post, we will be exploring:

  • Ways in which video games are incorporating aspects of gambling.
  • Ways in which casino games are incorporating aspects of video games.

We will also talk about eSports betting, which is actually uniting the worlds of sports betting, video games, and casinos.

Ways in Which Video Games Are Incorporating Aspects of Gambling

I actually remember that as a teen, my very first experience with casino games took place in an online game.

I was playing a MUD, which is a type of text-based multiplayer RPG. MUDs still exist, but remain a niche interest, as they always did. In any case, this MUD had a casino built in which offered only one game: Roulette.

You could bet using in-game cash. Incidentally, you could buy in-game cash with real money, but you could not convert your in-game cash back to real money. So, you could lose real money playing, but you could not make real money playing. You could only derive in-game benefits from your roulette victories.

I was instantly fascinated. It was a different time, so back then, as a minor, there were not a lot of opportunities to gamble. The roulette game felt taboo, so it was a big attraction in-game for younger players.

I remember spending a whole day playing the game, trying to understand how it worked. It was my introduction to probabilities and how I learned about the Gambler’s Fallacy.

The reason I share this personal story with you is because I am a Millennial gambler. As such, this experience helped shape my perception of casino games and what interests me to play as an adult.

I will be circling back around to that when I get to the section on how video games are crossing over into the world of casinos online and offline. In many respects, it is the interests of Millennial gamblers that have driven that trend. But first, I want to talk about some of the ways today in which casino games are cropping up in the world of video games.

As you will see, things have evolved quite a bit since I played that text-based roulette game in an obscure MUD!

Casino Games Played as Mini-Games for In-Game Cash

Similar to the roulette mini-game I described playing in a MUD as a young person, gambling mini-games are now all over the world of popular video games. Usually, casino mini-games in video games are not played with or for real money. They are played with and for in-game cash. Here are some examples:

  • Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption 2:
  • Both of these open world western games include casino mini-games, including Texas Hold’em, blackjack, dominoes, five finger fillet, and liar’s dice. Playing these games can offer a nice change in pace and a break from all the action, while also giving you a chance to make more money (or lose it).

  • Fallout New Vegas:
  • There are multiple casinos in New Vegas and the Mojave Wasteland where you can play slots, roulette, and blackjack in this open world game. There is also a unique card game called “Caravan,” which you can play with caravan guards and various other characters.

  • Watchdogs:
  • Watchdogs is another popular game that offers a number of mini-games you can play for in-game cash. Examples include chess, poker, slots, the shell game, and even a drinking game. There are also some mini-games unique to Watchdogs.

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt:
  • There is a unique card game in The Witcher 3 called “Gwent.” It is an elaborate deck building game that has actually become one of the most popular features in The Witcher 3 open world. You can win in-game money playing this mini-game, and there are even side quests involving Gwent.

On the left, Caravan being played in the world of “Fallout”.
On the right, Gwent being played in “The Witcher”.

Now, think back for a moment to my story about the roulette game in the MUD. Growing up, I didn’t have access to games like Fallout New Vegas or Red Dead Redemption. But today’s kids and teens do. So, young people today have an increasing familiarity with gambling. By the time they are eligible to play legally at a traditional or online casino for real cash, they are already very familiar with games like poker, roulette, blackjack and slots. And even as an older Millennial, I also had access to opportunities that older generations didn’t. I did learn all about roulette long before I was of a legal age to play at real casinos.

Regardless, video game players love gambling mini-games like these, whether they are regular casino games or original games like Gwent or Caravan.

Casino Games Played for Real Cash

While it can be a lot of fun to play simulated gambling mini-games with and for in-game cash, naturally there is a growing interest among video gamers in mini-games that do involve real money. So far as I can tell, there are few (but not zero!) examples of video games that allow you to play with in-game money, and then convert your winnings into real cash you can withdraw and enjoy in real life. But there are some examples of video games where you can gamble with real money for in-game rewards.

For starters, consider the MUD I talked about. It involved a “credit” system. Basically, the main form of in-game currency was gold, but there were also “credits.” At any given point, a credit was worth a certain amount of gold—but you could buy credits with real-life money. So, one could, for example, use US Dollars to purchase credits, exchange the credits in-game for gold, and then play roulette with the gold, but there was no way to convert gold or credits back into US Dollars, so any winnings had to be used in-game.

  • The GTA Online Diamond Casino

There is now a much more prominent example of a similar setup in the form of the Grand Theft Auto Online Diamond Casino & Resort.

This casino has been in operation since 2019, and exists solely within the world of Grand Theft Auto Online.

The BBC explains , “Grand Theft Auto V has opened an in-game casino where real money can be spent on gambling chips – but they cannot be converted back into cash… The in-game currency can be used to acquire cars, weapons, and cosmetic items – and used to play slot machines, roulette, or poker.”

While the feature has been popular among gamers, some regulators have not looked kindly on it, and have banned players in their countries from trying their luck at the GTA Online Diamond Casino.

  • What About Second Life?

One more thing you might be wondering about is Second Life. As you may be aware, it is possible to convert back and forth between Second Life’s in-game currency of Linden Dollars and real-life currencies. So, can you gamble for real cash in Second Life?

The answer is “it’s complicated—but yes.” As the Second Life terms and conditions page explains , “Gambling is strictly prohibited in Second Life and operating, or participating in, a game of chance that provides a Linden Dollar payout is a violation of our Terms of Service.”

Okay, so, clearly one cannot play roulette, slots, or similar games in Second Life without breaking terms of service.

The page continues, “However, games of skill are legally permitted in many jurisdictions, and Second Life’s Skill Gaming Policy establishes that skill games offering Linden Dollar payouts will be allowed, but each game, its creator, its operator, and the region on which it is operated must be approved by Linden Lab.”

Tons of approved gaming operators are listed on the page. So, yes, you can play games of skill for real money in Second Life.

Interestingly enough, it used to be possible to play games of chance in Second Life. In fact, games of chance were very prevalent. Reuters reported back in 2007, “Hundreds of casinos offering poker, slot machines and blackjack can easily be found in Second Life. While it is difficult to estimate the total size of the gambling economy in Second Life, the three largest poker casinos are earning profits of a modest $1,500 each per month, according to casino owners and people familiar with the industry.”

All of that ended in when Linden Lab changed its rules in August of that year. That was when they instituted the terms of service we just went over banning games of chance.

  • Analysis

I would say the main takeaways from this discussion so far are:

  • People who play video games gain exposure to familiar casino games when they are young.
  • Gambling mini-games are a fun part of a number of AAA games.
  • There are some opportunities out there to use real money to gamble in video games—but not a lot of opportunities to withdraw your winnings as real life cash.
  • You can technically do that in Second Life, but only for games of skill, not games of chance. Plus, you have the hassle of currency conversions to deal with, so it isn’t the most convenient way to gamble online.

Loot Boxes

On the topic of ways that gambling is showing up in video games, we also need to address the infamous subject of loot boxes.

Loot boxes appear to have been around since 2004 or thereabouts. Numerous video games include loot boxes for monetization. Some examples include Apex Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Paragon, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Hearthstone, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Star Wars Battlefront II, Fortnite, and Overwatch.

The concept of loot boxes is a little tricky to explain, so we’ll let The New Yorker do it:

“Among the more insidious gifts that video games have bestowed on modern culture is the loot box. A loot box is like an in-game lottery ticket: for a small fee, involving real money, a player can purchase an assortment of items that promise to enhance the game experience. In Overwatch, a pack of five loot boxes ($4.99) might land you a legendary skin that makes your Hanzo character look like a Kabuki figure.”

Buying loot boxes is a bit like pushing spin on a slot machine. There is a remote chance you will score a “jackpot” in the form of rare and valuable loot. But chances are good you will only get some minor, common loot. Since the contents of the loot boxes are random, there is no way to be sure what each one will contain. You could hypothetically buy all the loot boxes you can afford and not find the item you are after in one.

This is a loot box from “Apex Legends”. As you can see, there’s really no telling what’s in there!

Regulators are not crazy about loot boxes since kids can buy them. As you might expect, a vulnerable young person who really wants an item in a video game might blow through quite a lot of money without the psychological self-control to put the brakes on.

A lot of gamers are not fans of loot boxes either—they can be a frustrating form of monetization that gets expensive fast for players. Those with more cash to burn have more chances to win as well, so they could be considered a “pay to win” scenario if contents are not 100% cosmetic (even though there are no guarantees for any participants).

Some companies have made adaptations in response to pressure from regulators and players.

For example, take Epic Games. In Fortnite, the loot boxes players can purchase were made transparent in 2019 so that buyers can make an informed decision over whether to get them based on their contents.

So, loot boxes are another crossover between gambling and video games. Some players love loot boxes and find them fun, while others can’t stand them. Still others may like how one game handles them and not how another does. Regardless, they will probably stay controversial.

Social Casinos

Another interesting phenomenon in the gaming/gambling world is the advent of “social casinos.”

Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO) explains, “Social casino games are free-to-play gambling-like games found on social networking sites. Popular examples include Doubledown Casino, Slotomania, Zynga Poker and myVegas Slots. Social casino games differ from real-money gambling by several distinct features. First, social casino games do not require monetary payment to play, rather players’ wager virtual credits. Second, they are based on or interact with social networking sites. Third, the outcomes are not always based on random odds but rather on algorithms designed to enhance player engagement and satisfaction.”

So, you can visit a social networking site and play a social casino game that simulates an experience like slots or poker—but not necessarily in an accurate way. This is a trend that appeals mainly to a middle-aged female demographic, but young people also play social casino games.

Just as some gamblers have their first experiences with casino games while playing video game mini-games, as we talked about before, quite a few also are introduced to them on social networking sites with these simulated games.

Indeed, GREO reports, “Due to increased profitability and number of social casino gamers, gambling operators have begun to purchase, merge and partner with the social casino gaming industry (Sapsted, 2013). This is because the 200 million social casino gamers represent a vast pool of potentially new customers.”

While it is exciting for online casinos to be able to find more players through social casinos, it is a concern that some players may not understand the differences between the two.

Imagine a player who has been enjoying what they think is a “random” slot in a social casino, for example, who then transitions to playing real slot machines at an online casino. That player may be quite surprised when they do not achieve the same level of success with the real casino slots as they did with the social casino slots. They do not understand that the social casino game was programmed to reward them, rather than generating truly random results. Indeed, if they continue to labor under a misapprehension, they might keep taking spin after spin in an attempt to produce what they think of as “expected” results.

For that reason, gamblers should be educated to understand this important difference between how social casino games work and how real casino games work. With appropriate expectations from the start, players will be able to more responsibly manage their funds and regulate their emotions.

Ways in Which Casino Games Are Incorporating Aspects of Video Games: Skill-Based Slot Machines

We have spent most of this article so far talking specifically about ways in which gambling is showing up in the world of video games and social games. But what about the ways in which we are seeing casinos themselves incorporating aspects of video games?

The main influence that the world of video games has had on casino games takes the form of skill-based slot machines. The reason for the introduction of skill-based slot machines has to do with Millennial gamblers.

Basically, Millennial gamblers have not gotten into games of pure chance to the same degree as previous generations. Traditional slots just do not seem to appeal to them. That has been a problem for casinos online and offline, which traditionally make much of their revenue through slot machines.

I propose several reasons why millennial gamblers are not too fond of traditional slot machines:

  • As I talked about in this article, younger gamblers were exposed to gambling at an earlier age than members of older generations.
  • That means they became “wise” to the house edge at a younger age as well, having had the time and occasion to experiment with traditional casino games without cash on the line (consider my own example of discovering the Gambler’s Fallacy playing roulette in a text-based game). As a result, many of them are more interested in games where they can have an edge.

  • Gamblers who played video games as they were growing up have learned to associate a sense of reward with the application of skill.
  • So, when they go to an online casino or even a casino in a land-based environment, they are looking for a similar experience and payoff.

  • Millennial gamblers do not find any novelty in traditional slots, and are in search of fresh experiences.
  • Quite a few Millennials are strapped for cash, many of them having gotten their start in life during the recession.
  • As such, they are more likely to gravitate toward games that they feel they can actually win.

The casino industry’s response to Millennial gamblers’ boredom with slots and craving for games of skill was to introduce skill-based slot machines. Technically, skill-based slots date back to the 1920s! But they did not really take off until recent years.

With a skill-based slot machine, you press a spin button and reels turn to generate combinations on the paylines, just as they do with traditional slots. But the difference shows up when you trigger a bonus round. This round features a mini-game where you can bring your skills into play. Some of these mini-games have even drawn direct inspiration from classic arcade games. One example is Space Invaders, a game from Scientific Games. During the bonus round, you have to fire at space invaders from a ship. The original arcade game was from 1978.

If you are interested in learning more about skill-based slot games, you can read an in-depth guide to them here.

Another Area of Overlap: eSports Betting

Last but not least, this discussion about video games and gambling would be remiss without delving into eSports betting a bit.

eSports betting takes place both online and offline, and gives punters the chance to profit off of the predictions they make regarding professional competitions featuring games such as League of Legends, Dota 2, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and more.

In fact, esports has become almost a ubiquitous offering on sports betting websites—especially after many regular sports were delayed or cancelled during 2020 because of the pandemic. But did you know that casinos have also been getting involved in the world of eSports betting?

In 2018, for example, the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas opened the 30,000 square foot Hyper X eSports Arena. This arena hosts eSports events, bringing visitors to wage and wager in droves. According to research firm Eilers & Krejcik , “While the intersection of eSports and gambling to date has been largely around online gambling, the future is likely to bring an increasing amount of crossover between esports and land-based casinos.”

A screen shot from the game “League of Legends“, quite possibly the biggest name in eSports.

And that brings us to the next section.

What Will the Future Bring for Gambling and Video Games?

You are now caught up on the ways in which video games and gambling have melded together over the years. Is this a trend we can expect to continue? Probably. To some extent, video games and gambling appeal to an overlapping demographic. Casinos online and offline are going to want to continue to serve that audience by finding innovative ways to bring aspects of video games into gambling. At the same time, video game developers are likewise going to want to keep capitalizing on the interest that players show in casino games.

Both casinos and video game developers and publishers are going to have to deal with increasing oversight from regulators, however, who may limit what they are able to offer — or what players are able to access—in various countries.

Satisfy Your Gambling Itch at an Online Casino

If you are a gamer who is feeling the desire to gamble, you can certainly play a round of poker in Red Dead Redemption 2 or try your luck at roulette at the GTA Online Diamond Casino. But you will find a much wider selection of games at an online casino. In fact, hundreds of slots and table games are waiting for you.

To get started now, take a look at our list of recommended online casinos . The best part is you can play for free or you can stake real money and withdraw your winnings as cash!

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