Gambling support groups raise concerns over rise in virtual racing

Bookmakers have warned that jobs will be lost in the sector if ‘virtual racing’ machines, described as highly addictive by gambling support groups, are scrapped.

The claim is contained in a report prepared for the Department of Justice which also criticises the manner in which the gambling sector uses social media to attract punters.

It highlights the “blurring of lines between online gambling and social media games which simulate gambling”.

The report, led by Dr Crystal Fulton from University College Dublin, looked at global trends in the gambling industry and is expected to play a role in future legislation.

One issue is around virtual races, computer-generated races played out “live” on digital screens available in both bookmakers’ offices and casinos.

According to the report: “Gambling support groups claim that gambling on virtual races is highly addictive. While at real racing events there could be up to six races an hour, it is claimed that up to 20 races an hour can play out with virtual racing.”

However, the report also carries a claim from gambling operators that “the banning of virtual racing in Ireland would result in the closure of betting venues and the layoffs of staff”.

Referring to an earlier study, it states: “A representative for Paddy Power stated that all of their 600 shops in Ireland and the UK have virtual racing, going on to claim that it is an extremely popular form of gambling, generating high revenue for the firm.”

A spokesperson for the Irish Association of Bookmakers, which also contributed to the report, said virtual racing had been introduced during the foot and mouth disease crisis “to fill the gap while we had blank TV screens in our shops”.

She said it is popular but that “it is certainly one of the lower turnover products we have”.

On social casino gaming, the report warns it does not meet the legal definitions of gambling, and so is not subject to the same laws.

Barry Grant of Problem Gambling Ireland said it was seen as a “gateway into gambling”.

On the role of social media, the report states: “Features common among gambling operators’ social media were, on the one hand, a lack of responsible gambling messages and, on the other, an overwhelmingly positive image of gambling as a ‘glamorous, exciting, fun, and action-packed’ opportunity.”

The report is titled Developments in the gambling area — emerging trends and issues supporting the development of policy and legislation in Ireland.


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