TV Casino Commercial. “This is not a gambling website.” Huh?

There are quite a few TV commercials showing “VIPs” in suits gambling in a virtual casino. What’s the deal with the fine print? “Free play only”. “This is not a gambling website.” The impression is everything but. Why?

Dunno without seeing it, probably one of two things:

  1. They really do only offer playing with fake money. They make money from you some other way like ads or selling you credits to play with, but you can’t cash any in. That’s not gambling.

  2. Same as # 1, but once you’re there, you can sign up for an account where you can use real money and actually win or lose.

People want gambling websites, so they make commercials making it look like that’s what it is.

But gambling websites are illegal in many places, or at least regulated so tightly that they might as well be illegal, so they make it actually something else.

Are you talking about known casinos ( like Caesar’s or Golden Nugget) that have a website where you can play free virtual slots, etc? My guess is that it’s to get you on a mailing list or to sign up for a loyalty card* or otherwise make you likely to choose that casino over others for real gambling.

  • Which can really make a difference to people who gamble at casinos - if I have a card and status that gets me free rooms, meals, gifts at Caesar’s, it’s going to take a lot to get me to gamble at the Golden Nugget instead

The first response from ThisIsTheEnd with option #1 got it right.

"They really do only offer playing with fake money. They make money from you some other way like ads or selling you credits to play with, but you can’t cash any in. That’s not gambling."

You buy tokens with real money. You play real gambling games with the tokens. If you win a million tokens you cannot turn those in for cash. You just have a bunch of pretty cyber tokens.

People with a propensity to gamble will pump thousands and thousands of dollars into these “not gambling” websites because they get the winning thrill same as playing for real money instead of tokens. People susceptible to gambling addiction get hooked these websites and neglect real life and also bankrupt themselves while “not gambling”. It’s like heroin for a heroin addict.


My Dad spent thousands of dollars and hundred of house on a token pushing machine at a local arcade when he couldn’t go to Las Vegas. Playing the game was largely pointless as he didn’t play arcade games, though he’d sometimes use the tokens to play Skeeball and win tickets which we’d use to buy to get things like small TVs and toys for the kids.

I have the gambling blood in my veins and and realized that when I go to Vegas with my Dad and Mom, it was never a matter of how much I won or loss (which I always did), but the thrill of playing the game.

Edit: My Dad spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on a token pushing machine when he couldn’t go to Las Vegas.

You’ve never heard of the casinos. I doubt they have a physical location. Thanks for the answer. If you can attract gamblers and have no risk, it’s a perfect investment.

Follow-up question: are non-gambling poker websites the same deal?

It’s a murky topic right now. Many states specifically include all types of poker in their gaming laws (both in person and online), but at least one federal judge has ruled that poker is a game of skill and not gambling. So, while I’m not a lawyer, it seems that poker may not be gambling but is still subject to many gaming laws. I dont know how that applies to how websites advertise themselves.

As I understand, the commercials are typically for the “fun and not gambling” websites like, for example,, where unicorns dance and everything is just for funsies.

The commercials studiously avoid mentioning the neighbor site, which looks identical to the .net version except shit suddenly gets real.

I haven’t looked into online poker in years, so I could be missing some changes, but quick googling confirms what I’m about to post here.

Online poker in the US has traditionally been in a grey area legally. Washington state did make it a felony to play online poker in 2006, but other states didn’t specifically ban it, and there were no general attempt to arrest or charge people playing it even if it might be illegal. Hosting a site for poker in the US was technically illegal, but it’s easy to host a website outside of the US, so that’s what the sites did. With online poker getting increasingly popular, in 2006 congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which made it a crime to accept payments involved with ‘illegal online gambling’. But outside of state laws (like Washington’s), nothing made online poker actually illegal. Some sites felt this was risky and stopped accepting payments from US players, but others kept going. In 2011 the Justice Department made it clear that it was risky, and charged the three biggest poker companies with civil and criminal complaints, and seized their assets. While the civil charges didn’t stick, the criminal charges for money laundering stuck well enough to force the sites to reach a plea bargain. While it’s not clear whether charges can stick, it’s clear that online poker sites that allow US players and any banks working with them will be treated as breaking the law by the DOJ, which is bad for the poker sites and a complete disaster for banks.

So, outside of a few states that have legalized online poker for operations within that state, no one wants to openly state that they want US players on their site, and companies hosting advertisements don’t want to run ads for anything illegal. So the websites that do want to get US players into real money games run ads for ‘play money only’ sites that get US players interested, and their sites redirect users to the play money sites. But it advertises their name and gets it in people’s heads, and if they want to play real money poker, then they can use cryptocurrency or Western Union payments to get around the banking issue, and maybe a VPN to get around the site not accepting US IPs.

This is a lot like the way liquor companies sell non-liquor drinks like Schmirnoff Ice and don’t really care if the drink itself is popular or profitable. The point of selling Schmirnoff Ice isn’t the drink itself, it’s that they can advertise the Schmirnoff name on places that won’t take advertisements for actual liquor. The free site is functional for people who want that, but the real point is to put their name out for people who want the money site, which they can’t advertise directly.

Pretty much this. The sites are free to play, even the casino table and slot games. You get a certain amount of “play money” to play with, and if you lose it, you’ve lost it. Just log in again, and get a new stake. Win more than you are staked? You cannot cash it. It’s play money, after all.

What they want you to do is have enough fun on the free site to move up to their site, where you are opening an account with a credit card, and playing for real money. Which is a better marketing strategy: “Play for free at PlayCasinoGames (dot) net,” or Play with a credit card at PlayCasinoGames (dot) com"?

To that end, some people suspect that the results on the free sites are configured to be more favorable than the real money sites.

One difference, at least, is that if a gambler gets into monetary trouble from playing too much at one of these “fake gambling” sites, he can’t say “Well, I need to gamble more, so I can get that Big Win that will fix everything”. Whether that’s enough to result in different outcomes, I don’t know.

Unless the gambler is a victim of gambler’s fallacy fallacy?

Yes, that’s exactly it. The company buying the ads runs two very similar website: One where you play for fake money, one where you play for real money. In many jurisdictions it’s illegal to advertise the latter kind, so they run ads for the former kind - hoping that once you’re on the fake money casino, it’s easy for them to lure you to make the transition to the sister website where the real thing is going on.

Many of these “free to play” games have realized that there’s no need to have an actual gambling website. These games make millions by giving players the feeling of winning even though they can’t actually get any money out.