SALES of unregulated digital casino games that can be played by children are on course to hit almost £2bn worldwide this year.
The games, widely available on Facebook and via smartphones, have proved wildly popular rivals for time-killers such as Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds and Farmville.
They are free to play and users do not gamble real money. Instead they can pay to secure more spins or extend the games. Players are unable to cash out and turn virtual winnings into real cash.
Because no money is staked or paid out, the games are exempt from regulation by watchdogs; real casinos, betting shops and online gambling are of course all heavily regulated.
The popularity of social casino games has prompted fears that they could encourage young people to start gambling, and has led critics to refer to these products as “slots for tots”.
Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, warns that even if games do not involve money they do “introduce youth to the principles and excitement of gambling”.
The gaming industry watchdog, the Gambling Commission, has said it is “closely monitoring” developments. The industry denies that there is any problem and points out that only 0.15% of people paying to play are aged from 13 to 18.