UK Gaming Operators See Facebook as Serious Threat

For internet bingo operators in the UK the announcement by Facebook that the company is planning to offer real money gaming services is a cause for great concern. The concerns are not misplaced given the fact that Facebook has over 800 million active users around the world. Several internet gaming operators, UK politicians, and gambling charities have voiced concerns about underage gambling. Some see the concerns as hypocritical given the fact that internet bingo and gaming companies are free to advertise their products and services on Facebook. For many internet gaming operators Facebook’s ability to use detailed user profiles is more frightening than the prospect of paying higher UK internet gaming taxes.

Until last year Facebook prohibited all advertisements for gambling due to US laws but the company now allows gaming operators outside the US to advertise. At the time Facebook said they would monitor the advertisements and would only show gambling ads to those over 18. The move was welcomed by online bingo and gaming operators who saw Facebook’s move as an incredible advertising opportunity. Since Facebook announced plans to offer its own gambling applications many operators have joined the underage gambling campaign. Opponents argue that Facebook has over 3 million users between the ages of 13 and 17 and say that another million users are pretending to be over 18.

One senior manager at a top UK internet bingo operator expressed concerns about Facebook’s competitive advantage and stated “Around 50% of the UK has Facebook accounts; this provides them with a substantial base to jump start gambling operations. While online bingo sites do their best to target marketing campaigns at groups of people that MAY have an interest in bingo, such as TV advertising at key times, this is expensive and is only a broad match. Online advertising also comes with significant costs and is reliant on users searching for keywords. Facebook, however, has the opportunity of advertising to its own users at no cost and can also search out all users that have the word bingo in their profiles. This is a major advantage they have over traditional online bingo operators. They could quite easily be one of the biggest players in the market in a few years. Facebook poses more of a threat to the online bingo market than plans by HM Treasury to tax remote gambling.”

Gambling opponents and those that treat gambling addiction are not pleased with Facebook’s move. Dr Robert Lefever, director of the Promis Recovery Centre which treats gambling addicts stated “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.” It should be noted that land based bingo clubs are not concerned about Facebook’s plans and believe that the new policy could generate more interest in bingo and help business.