Recently Facebook, the world’s largest social network, announced that it may offer real-money gambling in the United Kingdom as early as the first quarter of 2012. Facebook is in talks with around 20 gambling experts, consultants, and casinos (some executives from PokerStars, 888 and Gamesys have been named) in a bid to bring real money gambling to its Facebook members. Facebook already allows its members to play on slot machine games, bingo and poker using ‘virtual credits’ instead of real money.
Right after the news became public, several UK media outlets and industry experts warned that a move like this would have serious negative consequences. The UK newspaper The Daily Mail published an extensive article about Facebook getting involved in real money online gambling and pointed out a supposedly huge negative impact of this plan. The Daily Mail argues that currently in the UK there are 3 million minors who might receive unrestricted access to real money gambling if Facebook implements this strategy. More than 3 million Facebook users in the UK are aged between 13 and 17. A further million are estimated to be fewer than 13 but pretending to be older.
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 its fun. It’s not – gambling destroys families.’
Labor 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. 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 normalization of gambling is vital.’
Facebook has issued a response to the speculation with spokesman Andrew Noyes telling Poker Live News, “Our commitment to providing a safe, secure and appropriate experience for teenagers is a fundamental principle of Facebook. The suggestion that we would make any decision that doesn’t carefully consider the impact on this audience is short-sighted and, frankly, offensive to the hundreds of people who work to keep kids safe and the many parents at Facebook. Beyond that, we’re not going to comment on the multiple layers of speculation occurring here.”
However, a number of people are concerned. It is expected that the introduction of real money gambling to an already addictive social platform will lead to a significant rise in problem gambling. With so many users of a young age on Facebook, there is a significant chance that people who would otherwise have never considered online gambling will be tempted to try it out.