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Some of the most downloaded and highest-grossing video games in leading app stores use casino motifs for their designs, raising questions about the potential dangers of gambling apps. Many worries about the future weigh on Brett as he works his way through a gambling addiction program.

The year-old's biggest worry after his release from the three-month program in California: But they're nothing compared with the biggest threat he'll face: Brett's gambling problem began a few years ago with bets on National Basketball Association games, followed by wagers on other professional sports.

It wasn't long before his habit expanded to social casino games.

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Played on a mobile device or PC, even via Facebook's website, such games mimic the slot machines and card games in casinos. The key difference is players can't win real cash.

They bet with the game's play money and, if they run out, they can spend real-world dollars to get more. He started playing Zynga Poker, a slot machine game, last year. But he craved the excitement that came with betting real money.

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Before long, he was placing bets in a brick-and-mortar casino, much to his financial detriment. That's when he, and his parents, decided he needed to get into a recovery program. These games, made for mobile devices, sparked Brett's gambling addiction. Part of how he got hooked was the "freemium" nature of social casino titles -- a tactic that has become a lucrative new way of doing business within the video game industry.

The lure is simple: Pull in gamers with free play and, once they're engaged, entice them to pay for extras, such as virtual money, gifts and more turns. And that may be the biggest problem, said John Kindt, a gambling critic and professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Spokespeople for Zynga declined to comment, while those for Caesars Interactive Entertainment and Big Fish Games did not respond to requests for comment. There are potentially many more Bretts out there.

Video games are more popular today than they ever have been, and their influence continues to grow. For casino game makers, that's translated into a monthly audience more than three and a half times bigger than the masses who visited Las Vegas in all of last year. The global audience for casino apps on smartphones reached an average of million monthly active users between July and June Play Pokies Online For Free Without Downloads Asia, which has not been recorded and makes up a quarter of the global marketaccording to SuperData Research.

Gainsbury, the gambling researcher, estimates the games will draw million people worldwide by Those audiences are opening their wallets for the games too. This past July, social casino games regularly made up a quarter of the top 20 highest-grossing apps in the Google Play Store, according to App Annie, a market analytics company.

Apple's App Store showed similar statistics for the month, with social casino apps consistently nabbing three spots in the top Free Slots consistently ranked in the top 10 in both stores. Though the games can be played for free, revenues from purchases of in-game extras reel in millions for the biggest publishers. Sales are continuing to rise: Revenues from mobiles accounted for 61 percent of the total market during the quarter, compared with 50 percent in the prior year period.

The games alone aren't the only thing attracting customers. Developers have hired high-profile celebrities to help to endorse them as well. Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal teamed up with a company called PlayStudios in March to lend his likeness to two social casino Fruit Machines Pokie Bait that are included Fruit Machines Pokie Bait the company's MyVegas app: Caddy Shaq, a slot machine game, and ShaqJack, a blackjack title.

He ought to know: O'Neal said he often plays the games during downtime between watching and analyzing playoff basketball games. He even recommended MyVegas to his five children, ranging from 9 years old to 19 years old.

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O'Neal said he likes the games because they help make learning math skills fun. For Liz Wooley, the games highlight an emerging and little-known social problem relating to video game addiction.

Wooley founded Online Gamers Anonymous after her year-old son committed suicide in following two years he spent playing a game called EverQuest, an Internet fantasy game. But when he got sucked into that game, he became a different person. Wooley said her son was addicted, and that made him depressed as well. Developers and industry advocates of social casino games say these apps aren't as dangerous as critics charge.

They say the stories of harm stem from abuse. Tony Lawrence, a year-old recovering gambling addict, and a counselor at the Aboriginal Gambling Help Service in Adelaide, Australia, says he's used social casino games as a teaching tool for himself and his clients.

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Still, the freemium model presents a challenge. Lawrence trains his clients to pick games where there aren't continual pop-ups for buyable extras, saying they can trigger the addiction.

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Each slot machine in the group contributes a small amount to this progressive jackpot , awarded to a player who gets, for example, a royal flush on a video poker machine or a specific combination of symbols on a regular or nine-line slot machine. FOBTs are mainly found in licensed betting shops , or bookmakers, usually in the form of electronic roulette.

Addicts who encounter the games on their own, without the sort of guidance Lawrence offers, may not have that strength. Brett said gambling apps shouldn't be so pervasive, particularly because they make it harder for him and other gambling addicts to stay clean. Move social casino apps to a separate section of app stores, so it's less likely a player will find them just by swiping through their home page. Spokespeople for Google and Apple, which run the most popular app stores, declined to comment.

It's definitely an issue. Be respectful, keep it clean and stay on topic.

We'll remove comments that violate our policy. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting. Don't show this again. Video Games The hidden cost of those 'free' gambling apps Some of the most downloaded and highest-grossing video games in leading app stores use casino motifs for their designs, raising questions about the potential dangers of gambling apps. Sign in to comment Be respectful, keep it clean and stay on topic. Reddit another hotspot for misinformation instudy says.

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Fruit Machine Pokies. One category of Pokie machine that could seem a little alien to you when you choose to play online or mobile Pokies are a category of game that. 3-reel pokies are classic slots themed after the traditional fruit machines, but with more paylines to win bigger cash jackpots; how and where to play online. Fruit machines are commonly found in UK pubs and social clubs, and have a number of unique features that set them apart from most pokies.

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