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Gambling Operators Face Criticism over Allowing Children to Access Virtual Reality Poker Games

Concern that new generations of games are literally teaching underage individuals how to gamble online and increase the risk of children becoming hooked on gambling has been growing lately.

A reporter for Bloomberg News revealed that they saw users playing rounds of Texas Hold’em who smoked virtual cigars and passed around digital weapons while a suspected child was present at the table. In another virtual game of poker, one of the players said they were in the 5th grade, meaning they were probably aged 10 or 11.

Currently, Irish gambling operator Flutter Entertainment owns the virtual casino established by PokerStars VR, which was officially launched in 2018 and has now between 40,000 and 50,000 players every day. A spokesperson for the gambling company said there was no tolerance for any customer who violated the company’s community standards and terms of service, evaded age rating, used toxic language, or demonstrated inappropriate behavior. Flutter Entertainment’s representative further noted that the company was making further steps to enhance its player protection.

The UK gambling regulatory bodies have imposed strict age requirements on betting for real money, with local players being required to gamble both off- and online in the country. When it comes to virtual poker, which does not involve playing with real money and is treated more like a videogame, the practice is still legal in the UK, so none of the companies operating virtual casinos have practically violated any laws. Still, anti-gambling campaigners and political figures are increasingly getting focused on the stricter regulation of virtual poker as a form of gambling.

According to Carolyn Harris, the chair of a cross-party group seeking to tackle gambling-related harm, providing children with access to virtual reality that is pretty much the same as a real casino, could make them more vulnerable to gambling-related harm.

Increasing Number of Children Could Be Found at VR Poker Games in the UK

For the time being, PokerStars VR notifies its virtual casino users that all players need to be 18 and older in order to play. There are currently 5 full-time moderators of the casino but Flutter Entertainment has revealed that it is planning to hire more. Poker VR, another betting game available via Meta’s Oculus device, welcomes players above the age of 13.

Neither one of the two games allow customers to play with real money, but PokerStars VR charges extra for virtual chips and certain special decorative items. Unfortunately, there have been multiple complaints on the Oculus store and game service Stream that both games allow users under the age of 18 to access the games.

According to the head of child safety online policy of the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Andy Burrows, the harm originates from children’s exposure to content and experiences which are not appropriate for their age. Mr. Burrows noted that although the money used in the game is virtual, it can socialize children into gambling habits and make gambling behavior look normal to them. On the other hand, some abusers could take advantage of virtual currencies that have lately been gaining popularity, with some underage individuals possibly getting into trouble.

 Author: Hannah Wallace

Hannah Wallace has been part of our team since the website was launched. She has a master’s degree in IT.