BUSINESS

Branson’s Virgin Gaming expands video game betting with Electronic Arts deal

TAGs: Electronic Arts, Madden NFL 11, virgin gaming, xbox360

Virgin-Gaming-Electronic-ArtsVirgin Gaming, a Toronto-based division of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin brand, has struck a deal with video game developers Electronic Arts (EA) to allow PS3 and Xbox players to wager on the outcome of online competitions. Virgin Gaming claims to have already signed up 170k users in over 30 countries, but becoming the official worldwide provider of online tournaments for EA makes this “the biggest deal that we’ve ever had” according to Virgin Gaming’s president William Levy.

Virgin Gaming members currently use Paypal or credit cards to pay entry fees ranging from $10 to $1,000 to participate in online multi-player video game tournaments organized by the company (and occasionally sponsored by outside firms, in which case, the entry fee is waived). The winners of these tournaments collect jackpots that can run into tens of thousands of dollars. But Virgin also allows gamers to organize their own tournaments, as well as directly challenge other subscribers to heads-up play.

It’s this last item that has the usual anti-gambling suspects accusing Virgin of “bridging the gap between online gaming and online gambling.” In its defense, Virgin claims to block underage players and puts a $500 weekly limit on players funding their accounts. If players wish to surpass this figure, they need to personally speak with a customer service rep. (For the record, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s online gambling site PlayNow.com has a weekly limit of $9,999 – 20x that of Virgin’s, and $1 under the threshold for reporting such transactions to the federal government, a responsibility BCLC seems curiously keen on avoiding.)

So how will US authorities react to what is analogous to online poker – a verifiable game of skill being wagered on for real money? It will also be interesting to note the National Football League’s reaction to seeing its hallowed product (even the digitized version) associated with wagering outside Nevada. Will Sir Richard be the next English businessman plucked off a plane (presumably, a Virgin Atlantic one) when it dares touch down on American soil?

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