U.K. Facebook app allows real-cash gambling
Published Tuesday, August 7, 2012 11:34AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 7, 2012 1:56PM EDT
Forget virtual farms and digital gifts: Facebook has moved into the realm of real-money gambling with a bingo and slots application that allows users to play for cash prizes.
Bingo & Slots Friendzy, developed by London-based Gamesys, allows Facebook users aged 18 and older to try their luck at winning actual money.
Though only Facebook users in the United Kingdom can view and use the app, the game itself marks the social network’s first foray into real-money gaming.
For its part, Facebook is quick to note that it did not develop the game and has “carefully selected” Gamesys to offer the app on the social network.
“Real money gaming is a popular and well-regulated activity in the UK,” Facebook spokesperson Linda Griffin said in a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca.
“We are allowing a partner to offer their games to adult users on the Facebook platform in a safe and controlled manner."
Gamesys’ Friendzy application includes 90 bingo and slots games, some of which allow players to win community “jackpots” and free bingo tickets.
The company says a series of identity-verification controls are in place to ensure that Bingo & Slots Friendzy users are U.K. residents who are over the age of 18.
The controls built into the app, including age and geographic verification tools, are said to resemble safeguards that are used on other gambling websites.
Facebook says information about the game will not be visible to underage users. This means updates about a friend’s Friendzy activity will not pop up on an underage person’s newsfeed, a page where users can see what friends are up to on the site.
Users outside of the United Kingdom are also excluded from viewing Friendzy activity.
In its statement, Facebook said it currently is not looking to expand into any other markets.
Facebook typically receives a 30 per cent fee from transactions made on the applications it hosts. It’s unclear, however, if the company will do the same in this case.
In a phone conversation with CTVNews.ca, Griffin would not confirm whether the company would take a cut of Friendzy’s revenue, referring to the information as “commercially sensitive.”
Like other Facebook applications, Friendzy users are allowed to opt out of the service and remove the application whenever the mood strikes them.
At the same time, Gamesys says app users will be able to access “a number of self-help tools to limit their spending and exclude themselves from playing at anytime.”
Online gambling rules more complex in Canada
The rate of problem gambling -- for gamblers in Canada and abroad – is three to four times higher among people who gamble on the Internet compared to non-Internet gamblers, according to the Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario (PGIO).
But rules surrounding the operation and usage of Internet gambling websites are far vaguer in Canada, noted Robert Williams, a co-ordinator with the Alberta Gambling Research Institute.
Canada’s Criminal Code makes reference to “common betting” or “common gaming” houses, but law dictates it’s up to provincial governments to manage electronically-aided gambling.
“Internet gambling is clearly electronic. Provinces are able to offer Internet gambling but…have to directly provide it themselves,” Williams said in a phone interview from Lethbridge, Alta.
Earlier this year, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. announced plans to enter the online gambling game by allowing residents to purchase lottery tickets online and place bets from mobile devices. Provinces such as B.C. and Quebec have similar initiatives in place.
“The actual monetary value in the grand scheme of things is actually quite small. The main issue is that only a very small percentage of the Canadian population gambles online,” said Williams, who estimates that figure sits at about three or four per cent.
Speculation has thrived about whether Facebook was moving toward online gambling applications in an effort to boost revenue.
Many investors were spooked in late July when the social network’s stock fell more than 14 per cent to $23.02, compared to its initial public offering of stock priced at $38.
Ad sales, according to Facebook, accounted for 84 per cent of the company’s revenue of $1.18 billion in the second quarter. It’s unclear how or if mobile advertisements factor into that total. The rest comes from transactions made on Facebook applications, including games.
Zynga, Facebook’s largest gaming partner, announced earlier this year that it planned to try its hand at the real-money gaming business in 2013.
Gamesys operates the popular U.K. online gaming website Jackpotjoy.com, which boasts more than four million players. By its own estimate, Jackpotjoy pays out more than GBP 200 million (about CAD$313 million) in prize money every month.
The company also operates Sun Bingo, Heart Bingo and Caesars Bingo.