Fear over plan for Facebook 'casinos' that could lure children into online gambling
By Keith Gladdis
Facebook is being accused of luring children into gambling through plans to introduce real cash games.
The world’s biggest social network site wants to use Britain as a testing ground for games that would let users gamble on virtual fruit machines, bingo, poker and roulette.
It already allows members to play slot machine games and bingo using ‘virtual credits’ instead of real money.
Risk: Child safety campaigners fear that children could be lured into gambling addictions by Facebook. (Picture posed by model)
Now Facebook is investigating ways of transforming that
model into one that would offer real cash prizes.
Last night critics expressed fears that the proposals will create a generation who believe that gambling is safe and fun.
More than 3million Facebook users in the UK are aged between 13 and 17. A further million are estimated to be under 13 but pretending to be older.
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Dr Robert Lefever, founding director of the Promis Recovery Centre which treats addicts, said: ‘Introducing gambling to Facebook is a cynical way for the gambling industry to find new markets, making gambling look acceptable.
‘There will be young people who think these games have Facebook approval, that you can gamble and it’s fun. It’s not – gambling destroys families.’
Labour MP Louise Ellman said: ‘I’m very concerned about this move by Facebook and the impact it might have on children and other vulnerable people.
'Introducing gambling to Facebook is
a cynical way for the gambling industry to find new markets, making gambling
Dr Robert Lefever, director of Promis Recovery Centre
‘Children spend hours on Facebook and parents need to be
confident that it is a safe environment.’
Lauri Moyle, of Christian Action Research Education (CARE), said: ‘Because there is a link between the age when people start gambling and the likelihood of developing a difficulty controlling their gambling, protecting children from the normalisation of gambling is vital.’
Professor Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University, added: ‘Even when no money changes hands, young children are learning the mechanics of gambling. These games can be a gateway to more serious gambling.’
Facebook, which is worth an estimated £64billion and is planning a possible flotation next year, is understood to have plans to offer eight licences to internet gaming companies to roll out their gambling applications on the British platform.
Talks between Facebook and around 20 senior gaming experts, operators and consultants including executives from PokerStars, 888 and Gamesys, were revealed by the industry magazine eGaming Review.
'We are always in discussions with companies about lots of different ideas': Facebook refused to deny it was negotiating with the gambling industry
WHAT THE LAW SAYS ABOUT GAMBLING
Betting in the United Kingdom is regulated under the
Gambling Act 2005.
Any person or company based in Britain wanting to run an online bookmakers, casino or bingo must obtain a licence from the Gambling Commission.
The watchdog enforces a strict code of practice ensuring websites are fair and open, and that vulnerable people are protected from harm or exploitation.
Most importantly, the operator must prove it has in place rigorous systems to stop people under the age of 18 betting.
If a website is based abroad, it does not need a licence.
But to advertise in the UK, it must be located in a country or territory on the Government’s ‘white list’, which includes the EU, Gibralter and Antigua.
Because Facebook’s internet server is in the U.S. it could, theoretically, use internet gambling operators that do not adhere to Britain’s rules.
However, there is no suggestion that the social networking site would not meet the highest standards.
They began in the summer and
continued with Facebook’s representative responsible for games and new
partnerships over dinner in a Soho restaurant last week.
Last night Facebook refused to deny it was in negotiations with the gambling industry. A spokesman said: ‘We are always in discussions with companies about lots of different ideas, but we don’t comment on future plans or speculation.’
Gamesys and 888 are believed to be ‘first in the queue’ to win the Facebook licences that could be agreed early next year.
Gamesys, the company behind JackpotJoy, has a strong presence on Facebook, claiming 1.7million users for its virtual slot machine games, while 888 claims 650,000 monthly users for Bingo Island, a Facebook game using virtual credits.
James Bennett, editor of eGaming Review, said: ‘Facebook is looking for new revenue streams and the gambling industry is looking for new markets. There is still a lot of work needed to be done, not least what percentage of revenues gambling companies would have to give away to Facebook and the issue of age verification.’
The British Medical Association has warned that preventing underage gaming online is ‘difficult if not impossible’ because children can use parents’ credit cards.