Just over a year ago, Facebook made the controversial move to allow real money gambling in the UK. Courting controversy, the social media giant gave Gamesys, a high-profile UK Bingo and Slots website operator, the rights to offer the game “Bingo & Slots Friendzy” to the British market.
The move was the first step in what critics are hailing as a move from social gambling to gambling. Facebook had previously allowed users access to games with elements of gambling such as Zynga Poker, in which players could buy virtual chips (but couldn’t cash them it). This was compounded by a relaxation of advertising policy on Facebook regarding gambling-related products in 2011, when they began permitting “ads that promote or facilitate online gambling, games of skill or lotteries, including casino, sports book, bingo or poker”.
This set up Mark Zuckerberg’s company as a new player in the online gambling world. And now it seems as though Facebook are expanding their operations in a quest to dominate another corner of the internet. Unlike the US, the UK currently has a reasonably lax stance towards gambling and was traditionally the home of some of the world’s largest gaming companies – therefore the UK market would be a great nut to crack, especially considering Zynga Poker has more users than all other online poker sites put together.
Then last month, Facebook announced that they and bookmakers Paddy Power were to launch a sports gambling app. ‘Paddy Power In-Play!’ will be the social network’s first product to allow gambling on sporting events. Gamblers will be able to place bets on horse races, football matches and other sports similar to more dedicated online gambling experiences like.
Paddy Power itself has a strong social media presence of its own and will now be able to reach an ever increasing audience. Peter O’Donovan, MD of Paddy Power Online, highlighted the company’s reputation as a powerhouse in the online gambling sphere: “The launch of the first real money sports betting product on Facebook is testament to Paddy Power’s e-commerce and technology capabilities.”
There has been fear among parents and regulators that children will be exposed to these games and that once kids hit 18 they will have been corrupted by the Facebook games which promote gambling without actually accepting real money bets. Both Facebook and Paddy Power have stated a strong case that gambling will be strictly monitored and that age verification software will prevent underage users from getting involved in real money gambling.
Users under the age of 18 will not be allowed to see or access the games, according to a Facebook spokesman: “Online betting is a popular and well-regulated pastime in the UK. Our carefully chosen partners work within stringent regulatory guidelines to ensure their products and services are used safely and responsibly by adults. These products will be invisible and inaccessible to people aged under 18 on Facebook.”