Published: March 7, 2022

Gamblers flock to virtual casinos in metaverse app

Metaverse tourists are now sending their gambling selves into virtual poker rooms to lay down bets for crypto wealth.

In Decentraland, a virtual space accessible via a web browser, visitors can choose an avatar to visit a wide variety of destinations, Bloomberg reported. But the hippest virtual hangout is the ICE Poker casino.

Inside, hundreds of cartoonish people dressed in streetwear and sunglasses hover near poker tables for the sounds of a winning hand — a cash register or the burst of hand-clap emojis.

To play, online guests must borrow or buy a piece of virtual swag sold by the casino — a hat, sunglasses, shirt, a cigar — that can later be sold for cryptocurrency, Bloomberg reported. The poker chips can be used to upgrade the items and boost their value.

The four poker rooms in Decentraland frequently host about half of the people in its entire metaverse.

In Decentraland, the poker parlors known as ICE Poker, are run by a company called Decentral Games, a frontrunner in play-to-earn gaming founded in 2019 and based in Virgin, Utah, according to Crunchbase. The company doesn’t have a gambling license in the U.S. and argues it doesn’t need one, as gamers aren’t directly cashing out chips for money after they play.

Decentraland is a fusion of the two most sought-after themes for technology investors: the metaverse and Web3, a decentralized online ecosystem based on the blockchain, according to Bloomberg.

People buy and sell the app’s custom currency, MANA, which has a market value of $4.7 billion. Some 600,000 people use the app each month, according to its creative director.

Betting rooms have emerged as the hub of the metaverse’s economy.

Financial speculators spent more than $500 million last year to buy virtual real estate in Decentraland and three other metaverses, according to data from MetaMetric Solutions reported by CNBC.

“The main problem with the metaverse now, even at the outset of ICE Poker, is the fact that it’s empty,” Decentral Games founder Miles Anthony told Bloomberg. “So we’re trying to populate the metaverse, basically, with this, and it seems to have worked so far.”

Anyone can play poker in Decentraland as long as their character possesses the digital swag known as ICE wearables. Decentral Games sells them on its website for roughly $5,000 apiece. Each one is a nonfungible token (NFT), meaning it’s unique and can be resold on marketplaces such as OpenSea.

Owners can also lend them out, often taking a cut of the borrower’s winnings.

Decentral Games has paid out the equivalent of $15.4 million to players, said Ryan De Taboada, the company’s chief operating officer. On one day in February, almost 10,000 people played poker in Decentraland. Of those, only about 11 percent owned the NFT used for entry. The rest borrowed one.

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