Millions of people are spending a lot of time — and money — on social games like “Candy Crush” and “Angry Birds” that are widely accepted as harmless pastimes, representatives of the online gaming industry told the state Gaming Commission on Tuesday.
Social casino games, which mimic slot machines and table games without allowing actual wagers, are no different, the representatives said.
Luc Delany, chief executive officer of International Social Games Association, a social gaming trade group, said he does not consider social casino games “to be gambling at all.”
People who play slots and other games online clearly understand the difference between online social gaming, a growing trend in the casino industry, and actual casino gambling, he said.
“The online casino games take their inspiration from real money games,” he said. “But we think people enjoy them because they don’t take any actual risk of losing money when they play online.”
Delany spoke at a three-hour commission meeting held to discuss social casino games, which critics say are addictive and misleading. Plainridge Park Casino, a slot parlor and the state’s first casino, offers an online slot machine that lets players win credits to make the leaderboard and open up new levels of play.
“It’s pretty clear there are some risks,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “When you simulate gambling online, whether for money or not, you can develop a gambling problem or exacerbate a problem.”
Whyte said the casino industry and its regulators should discuss voluntary guidelines to protect players. While it’s not clear whether online games help casinos recruit new players, gamblers who play online seem to wager more at brick-and-mortar casinos, he said.
Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen P. Crosby said there is no evidence that online casino games lead to problem gambling. But Crosby said the panel had a better grasp of the subject and would invite Penn National, the owner of Plainridge Park Casino, to discuss the topic at a future meeting.
“I would like to know what Penn is doing now that we have better understanding of the issues,” Crosby said.
Representatives of Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts, which are also licensed in Massachusetts to operate casinos in Everett and Springfield, respectively, will also be invited.
Members said it is an open question whether the commission has jurisdiction over social gaming but wanted to learn more about the potential risks.
The commission scheduled the meeting after a Globe article cited concerns about online slot machines among critics of problem gambling.Sean P. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.