Ever since the internet brought the game of poker into people’s homes, the issue of underage people – kids – playing online has been an issue. The “normal” online poker industry has taken strong steps to try to thwart underage players, but a new threat looms on the horizon. A recent article at Bloomberg.com illustrates this situation and just how difficult the latest innovation in the online world, virtual reality (or VR), is for these online companies.

“It’s Incredibly Concerning”

The Bloomberg.com article, written by Thomas Seal, does not exactly paint the world of VR poker in a good light. Seal assumes that a person involved in one of the VR games, from the way their avatar is dressed and their voice, is underage. Seal also points out a situation where another player says that they are in fifth grade, which Seal indicates that they are “aged either 10 or 11.”

Although he cannot document these stories with evidence of underage play, Seal does bring it to the attention of Flutter Entertainment, the ownership of PokerStars and its VR extension, PokerStars VR. “There is a zero-tolerance approach to any player that acts in breach our of terms of service and community standards, circumvents our age rating, uses toxic language or behaves inappropriately, all of which can lead to permanent bans,” Seal quotes a Flutter spokesperson. “We are investing to enhance player protections, including the roll-out of AI-driven tools to support our moderators, and are working closely with Meta and other technology partners to continually raise standards.”

But regulators are taking a harder approach to the subject than Flutter and one of its competitors, Poker VR, seem to be taking.

One of the members of the British House of Commons, MP Carolyn Harris, is a staunch opponent of underage gambling. Harris stated to Seal, “”If you took a child into a casino there would be a public outcry…this is no different.” Andy Burrows, the head of child safety online for the British National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, is quoted by Seal as stating, ““It’s incredibly concerning,” said Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy for the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “The harm here is about exposure to age-inappropriate content, to age-inappropriate experiences.” Burrows also points out that, while there might not be any money exchanging hands, it “normalizes” the behavior for children.

Virtually Impossible to Stop

The issue at hand in preventing underage people from taking part in the VR poker games is that (no pun intended) it is virtually impossible to stop them from doing it.

With online poker, the companies have gone to great lengths to verify that people playing on the site are of legal age to partake of the product (21 in most locations in the States of America, 18 in the rest of the world). Through using several methods of age verification and online verification procedures, a player can be quickly determined to either be of age to play or denied admission because they are underage. With the new VR technology, however, there is not as much diligence done.

Seal points out that PokerStars VR is not breaking any laws in offering their product. Because there is no money changing hands, there is not an age restriction. Facebook, who offers the highly popular Oculus Quest for access to the metaverse, “asks” its users to be at least thirteen before taking part in its offerings. Neither Oculus nor Facebook (or Meta, as it has morphed into) have any methods in place for determining if someone should participate in a VR activity.

This is not stopping regulators from trying to keep up with the technology, however. According to Seal, British regulators are trying to produce more stringent regulations that would take the VR technology into consideration. Seal also points out, though, that since there is no money changing hands in these VR games and, thus, it might be out of their reach.

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