Posted 1/23/11 : Online gambling group Virgin Gaming is making a bold move into an essentially community gaming sector – internet video gaming on consoles like Xbox and Playstation, according to reports in the Ottawa Citizen.
The newspaper claims that Virgin has allied itself with video games giant Electronic Arts in an agreement to support a range of popular sports games, including top sellers like Madden NFL 11 and FIFA 11, using its well established online wagering system.
The new initiatives sees Virgin providing facilities for gamers to wager on the results of video game challenges such as multiplayer contests over the Internet, tracking the players' activity as they play on an Xbox 360 or PS3, to ensure against cheating. Prizes can be in the tens of thousands of dollars for successful gamblers.
The Virgin system permits only organised tournaments at present, where players buy-in to create a prizepool, much the same as online and land poker tourneys. Sponsorships are also offered to make the financial burden on the player lighter, such as a recent event supported by Maxim Magazine.
Clearly the idea has caught on – Virgin says it already has 170,000 users from 30 countries signed up to use its online services, and the betting company plans soon to introduce online facilities that will allow players to compete on a game-by-game basis, creating their own tournaments for real money prizes for the skilled victors.
Virgin Gaming president William Levy told the Ottawa Citizen: “This is the biggest deal that we’ve had. We have the entry fee-based tournaments. We also have sponsored tournaments. Let’s say there was a $10 entry fee tournament, you could click ‘enter now,’ agree to the terms and conditions and then we deduct the $10 from your account and put it towards the pot.”
Successful recent tournaments have included widely played video skill-based games like Halo:Reach and NBA 2K11, and the engagement with EA is expected to open up the sports segment with games like Madden NFL 11 Red Zone.
EA’s Madden NFL franchise is the best-selling sports video game in the United States, having sold more than 1.81 million copies in its first month on store shelves in August, the newspaper reports. According to EA, fans of the title have played more than 190 million games of virtual football over the Internet on Xbox Live since the title launched in August 2010.
FIFA 11 is the world’s best-selling sports game; more than 2.6 million copies of the title were sold in its first five days on store shelves in November last year, and earlier this year the game was awarded a Guinness World Record. More than 775,000 people participated in the FIFA Interactive World Cup this past summer, making it the biggest Internet-based gaming tournament ever held, and illustrating the popularity and potential of internet-based, multiplayer video gaming.
Players must meet normal age and location criteria to use the Virgin system, registering a credit card and an account on the company website. The site additionally deploys anti-problem gambling measures and treatment advice. The Virgin system will only allow up to $500 a week to be uploaded to any Virgin customer account, unless the player first engages with a customer service representative who has access to his or her activity records.
The downside, according to a manager at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, is that while small, infrequent wagers can be a fun way to pass the time, large wagers on a regular basis add up to a problem. Counsellors are already helping to treat problem gamblers and they are also working to treat people hooked on video games.
"Combining the two creates a new problem," she said. “It’s bridging the gap between online gaming and online gambling. We already see people who have problems with both.”
Sports betting, especially in the United States, is a major generator of revenues running into the tens of billions of dollars every year in the US alone, and fantasy sports betting – exempted from laws like the UIGEA – is becoming increasingly popular and building impressive revenues.
A spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told the newspaper that in Canada there are no prohibitions on wagering on a game of skill, such as a game of Madden NFL 11, over the Internet.