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Kevin Smith

PlayAway on Hold for Now in Connecticut

17 August 2005

The operators of Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut have decided not to re-launch a computer game that the state's attorney general believes to be illegal, but insist they haven't given up the fight to keep it alive.

The game, called PlayAway, entails customers purchasing keno tickets at the casino and accessing a Web site to find out whether they've won. Tickets can only be purchased at the casino, and winning tickets can only be redeemed at the casino, with no transactions made over the Internet. Even though the Web site offers games like slots, blackjack and video poker, the winning tickets are predetermined, and the outcome of the online game play has no bearing on whether the tickets are winners or how much money is won.

PlayAway, was soft-launched July 18, but was taken down shortly thereafter (per the request of the Connecticut's attorney general and Department of State Revenue Services) so that state regulators could review it and determine whether it's legal. Through the state's Division of Special Revenue, regulators informed tribal leaders last week that the game violated the state/tribal gaming compact and the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Specifically, the state cited a one-year-old law that prohibits promotional online lottery games. The reviewers also pointed out that the site included animation, which could appeal to minors.

Foxwoods nevertheless maintains that the site amounts to nothing more than an informational resource enabling players to check their winning numbers and giving the casino another avenue for marketing itself. The operators argue that the site is no different from newspapers, TV stations and radio stations that carry daily lottery numbers.

George Henningsen, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Gaming Commission, which oversees activity for Foxwoods, said tribal leaders and gaming regulators disagreed with "virtually every aspect of the analysis/conclusion."

Henningsen added, "Clearly, the impression when you first went onto the Web site was that this was online gambling. It looks like you're playing. I know you're not, but I can't argue that it looks like it."

GameLogic, the Massachusetts-based maker of Play Away, said it designed the game to comply with state and federal laws and shopping other versions of the game in Nevada and New Jersey.

The tickets are very much like instant scratch tickets in that the result has already been decided at the time of the sale. But instead of scratching the tickets, players go home and enter the ticket codes on their computers to find out whether they've won.

Foxwoods is the first casino in the United States to offer a product of this nature. If the venture is successful, members of the National Indian Gaming Association expect the idea to attract other tribes.

Casino regulators in New Jersey are also watching because the Casino Control Commission is considering allowing Atlantic City gambling halls to use such software.

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe was hoping to have the game back online on Aug. 15, but the re-launch has been postponed so that the software can be redesigned to better meet regulatory standards. The main changes will involve letting players know that they aren't actually playing games for money. They also plan to add a button to skip the graphics and check the keno numbers without playing the games.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the software crosses the line into Internet gambling and that if PlayAway is approved, there's nothing to stop the tribe from coming back to make slight changes.

"The slope is so slippery," Blumenthal said. "Once Internet gambling is allowed, almost any form of Web site gaming will occur."

He added that the state will go to court to keep the tribe from re-launching the game if necessary.

Foxwoods officials insist, however, that they don't want to break into the Internet gambling market. They say they just want to fill seats on the casino floor, and they consider PlayAway no different from any other industry's use of the Internet for marketing.

"You're crazy not to be using the Internet," Henningsen said. "It's a personal link to someone who you know already has an inclination to gamble. At this moment, I can't see any way this will be withdrawn."

No re-launch date has been set, but the tribe intends to give state regulators a 72-hour notice before going live with the updated version of the game.

PlayAway on Hold for Now in Connecticut is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith