BetMGM’s Online Poker Has A Quitting Problem For Problem Gamblers

Written By Steve Friess on April 18, 2023
red quit button on white keyboard

I’m quite fond of BetMGM’s poker site. Living in Michigan, I enjoy perhaps the nation’s most diverse and expansive choices of casino, sportsbook and online poker apps – and, for my money, the interface I am most comfortable with is BetMGM. Given how all the apps offer essentially the same things, the determining factors for which ones to use regularly come down to the ease of navigation, the visual appeal, brand loyalty and worthwhile bonus offers.

This preamble is intended to clarify that I use this app. I like it. I have a couple of games going right now while I’m writing this.

But BetMGM, I wish I knew how to quit you. The fact that you make it so hard is a problem.

By a large margin, BetMGM Poker on the Mac desktop is the pushiest, rudest of all the legal apps. It demands your attention in ways no other casino – or app of any other sort! – does. It must be the worst nightmare of anyone with a gambling problem.

This must stop.

Read more from the State of Play column:

Just when I think I’m out, BetMGM pulls me back in

On a Mac or PC laptop, all poker apps require users to download software. While sports bettors and casino players can enjoy their activities via the websites and walk away by simply closing a window, the poker programs are different.

Let’s all agree here that if a player wants to quit a casino app, they should be able to do so with minimal fuss. This is an important principle and, one would think, a basic tenet of any company purporting to care about curbing gambling addiction.

The problems with BetMGM, though, start when you launch the app. You’re confronted with a sign-in box that lays on top of the grid listing the games and tournaments going on. Your location has not been verified and you haven’t signed in yet, but they already want you to feel the FOMO.

You have only two choices: log in or close the log-in box and then quit the app. Any other action – including a quick Command-Q exit – is prohibited.

If you do log in and play but move on to other things on your laptop without quitting, the app gives you a few minutes before it starts to aggressively demand your response. It automatically logs you out after a few minutes, which is fine, but then the BetMGM Poker icon in the dock starts bouncing and bouncing.

Oh my god, the bouncing. This is where the whole thing gets particularly intrusive. You’re logged out, but that’s not good enough for them. They feel the need to keep tapping you on the shoulder as if to say, “Hellooooo! Come back! More gambling to do!” When you do respond to the bouncing, you find yourself stuck back in that log-in box. Again, no easy Command-Q exit.

Finally, when you’re logged in and you want to leave, you can hit Command-Q. But that’s not as simple as it sounds, either. Before the app lets you go, it forces you to answer: “Are you sure you want to log out?” The default answer, by the way, is NO.

This is yet one more way this app keeps you in its clutches. Ideally, the app should err on the side of assuming you meant to quit and just shut down. If you made a mistake, you’re fully capable of relaunching the app and signing back in. Perhaps, if you’re in the middle of a game or hand, it makes some sense to ask this question. But BetMGM Poker asks you this even if you’ve got no money in play.

Not helpful for preventing problem gambling

I’m not a gambling addict. I know my limits and I play low stakes.  But even so, there are times when I feel I might lose my grip, get upset about losses, and resolve in my mind to win my money back by playing on. When I feel that way, I’ll get up and walk away from my laptop or I’ll go somewhere else on my computer – scroll Twitter, read Mediaite, watch Netflix – until I sober up.

I can only imagine how someone in the throes of a manic episode might respond to the icon bouncing at them when they’re trying to get away or the app insisting on a two-step method of shutting down the casino.

I want to believe that the folks who oversee the problem gambling efforts at BetMGM don’t know about these particular quirks in the poker software. After all, quitting an app on your phone is as easy as swiping up. And on a phone, there is no similar pushiness when your poker or casino app slips into the background.

But it has been three weeks since I asked BetMGM’s media gang to explain why the software deploys these tactics to prevent players from leaving. “Can you give me some time to speak with my poker team on it to get more insight?” a spokeswoman wrote. “I’ll circle back with you once I gather some thoughts on our end!”

Since then, the software has been updated twice. In neither case did any of these issues get resolved. And, of course, I’ve heard nothing from “the poker team.”

“RG Check” accreditation missing key component

I also asked Elaine McDougall, the communications director for the Responsible Gambling Council, which provides an imprimatur to online casinos that adhere to a litany of principles for protecting addicts from themselves. In March, the RGC awarded BetMGM with its “RG Check” certification which, per a B
etMGM press release, “validates organizations that have implemented robust responsible gaming policies and practices. The accreditation process involves a thorough evaluation of an organization’s responsible gaming program, including its policies, procedures and training platforms.”

McDougall, via email, said the RG Check accreditation “is comprised of nine standards, 48 criteria and hundreds of indicators that measure the scope and effectiveness of an operators’ RG programming in areas such as site and product design, marketing communications and assisting players who may be experiencing harm from gambling.”

And yet, she goes on to say, the Original Recipe is admittedly lacking what would seem like a no-brainer:

“It does not explicitly include the actual logging out functionality. This process of additional steps and nudges during the logout process is a tactic that is becoming more common across the different platforms and could potentially be a risk factor for some vulnerable populations. This will be an area that RGC examines during our next standards and best practices review and update the RG Check program accordingly.”

Huh. This is an issue that somehow didn’t get included in the nine standards, 48 criteria or hundreds of indicators? That’s alarming. You’d think that the standard would be simple: Any gambler who wants to leave should be able to do so as quickly and easily as possible. Full stop.

There are a couple of other quirks with BetMGM Poker that further raise questions about the company’s commitment to preventing addiction. On the laptop, the problem gambling information – “If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call 1-800-GAMBLER” – is not in view in the sign-in box. To read it, you must scroll down. This info should be obvious, not hidden. Who scrolls own in a log-in box?

Also, when you do quit the app, the box that asks if you’re sure you want to go has no problem gambling information at all. This is where most apps provide it as a parting message, but not BetMGM Poker.

I’ve no doubt there are many people at BetMGM and MGM Resorts who are serious about this problem. And I’m hopeful that one of them will read this, reach out to me, and tell me how and when all of this will be fixed.

Photo by Playin USA
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is the national gambling industry correspondent for Playin USA and its related local sites. He is also a contributing writer for Newsweek. A Long Island native who earned a journalism degree at Northwestern University, Friess worked at newspapers in Rockford, Illinois, Las Vegas, and South Florida before launching a freelance career in Beijing, China, where he served as chief China correspondent for USA Today. After his return to the U.S. in 2003, he settled in Las Vegas, where he covered the gambling industry and the American Southwest regularly for The New York Times, Playboy, The New Republic, Time, Portfolio, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. During that time, he created and co-hosted two successful and groundbreaking podcasts, the celebrity-interview show The Strip and the animal affairs program The Petcast. In 2011-12, Friess was a Knight-Wallace Fellow for at the
University of Michigan. That was followed by a stint as a senior writer covering the intersection of technology and politics at Politico in Washington, D.C., In 2013, he returned permanently to Ann Arbor, where he now lives with his husband, son, daughter and three Pomeranians. He tweets at @SteveFriess and can be reached at [email protected]

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