Virtual Reality is big business these days. From education to healthcare, many major industries are exploring the potential of VR. The technology has already had a big impact on the gaming industry in particular, with devices like the Oculus Rift and the PlayStation VR headset providing players with a new gaming experience. It’s also started to make waves in the online casino world, but is it the future? Let’s find out.

The story so far

Casino software developers have been experimenting with VR for a few years now, but it’s fair to say VR casino technology is still in its infancy. NetEnt, one of the leading developers of casino games, was among the first to integrate VR into the casino world. In 2016, NetEnt released a VR version of its popular slot Jack and the Beanstalk.

The game, called Jack’s VR World, completely transforms slots gameplay by taking players away from simply viewing reels on a screen and transporting them into a virtual, 3D gaming environment. A year later, the developer released a VR version of its Gonzo’s Quest slot, which also provides an enhanced, more immersive slots experience.

SlotsMillion was one of the first casinos to embrace VR technology and offers a VR online casino to its customers. Over 40 slots have been adapted for the SlotsMillion VR casino, including NetEnt’s famous Starburst slot. The SlotsMillion casino can be enjoyed by anyone who owns an Oculus headset, and while it’s not quite as advanced as some other forms of VR gaming, it is currently one of the most advanced VR casinos available online.

It’s not just slots that have been the subject of VR innovation, though. Microgaming, another major software developer, has developed a VR roulette game, while PokerStars has introduced VR to the world of online poker. However, as with Jack’s VR World, Microgaming’s VR roulette game isn’t currently widely available to play online. There is still some distance between developing VR games and integrating them into online casinos.

NetEnt is also one of the developers behind the push to bring VR to live dealer casinos. The NetEnt Virtual Live Casino, which launched in 2018, goes beyond the traditional live dealer format by opening up an entire virtual casino floor with other live games going on in the background. The Virtual Live Casino doesn’t require a VR headset, so it isn’t as immersive as other VR gaming technologies, but it is a big step toward a new type of casino play.

VR isn’t just impacting online casinos, either – gambling companies are also looking to bring VR technology to land-based casinos. For example, game developer ITG has developed a “Virtual Zone” at the Boyd Gaming Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The Virtual Zone, which uses HTC VR headsets, allows players to compete against each other in archery-based VR games with the aim of winning slot credits. While this isn’t exactly VR casino gaming, it is an example of the different ways VR technology is impacting the casino industry.

The benefits

The main draw of VR technology is that it provides a more immersive gaming experience. Online casinos already offer live dealer games, which are more realistic than animated games, but VR can reduce the gap between online and land-based casinos even further. NetEnt’s Virtual Live Casino is a good starting point, but VR has the potential to go far beyond this. Players could, in theory, actually move around the casino floor, play at different tables, and even handle virtual chips, cards and dice themselves. This kind of casino technology is still some way off, but with VR the possibilities are huge.

VR has the power to immerse players in any kind of virtual environment, whether that be a Vegas casino or the setting of a slot game. This is another benefit of VR casinos, because whereas games like roulette and blackjack can be played in a live dealer setting, most slots are restricted to the traditional format. VR has the power to transport someone playing a Wild West themed slot into a virtual Wild West environment, for example, which adds a completely new dimension to games. Likewise, with film and TV themed slots, such as Jurassic Park, VR has the power to immerse players within an interactive virtual setting.

The challenges

Virtual reality presents several challenges for casinos to overcome. One of the main issues is that players need to have the right equipment for VR gaming. This includes a suitable computer or laptop, as well as a VR headset, which aren’t exactly on the cheap side. VR games are also considerably more expensive to develop than regular casino games. For it to be a success, operators will have to rely on enough players buying the necessary equipment and then consistently gambling on VR games.

Another obstacle is whether or not enough players will simply be interested enough in VR technology for it to really take off. A huge number of casino players choose to do their gambling via mobile, and using a VR headset isn’t exactly practical if you fancy a game while on the train to work. Mobile devices are also lagging somewhat behind laptops and desktops when it comes to the integration of VR technology.

Of course, some people simply prefer to do their gaming via traditional methods, and even among those that do purchase VR equipment, there’s also the chance that they may lose interest after a while. VR gaming is still a relatively niche market, so it’s unclear yet as to whether it can really challenge or overtake traditional forms of gameplay.

Another challenge is that as games become more immersive, there is the chance that this could increase the risk of problem gambling. There are already concerns that VR gaming is addictive, and considering the already addictive nature of gambling, VR casino games could hinder efforts to reduce problem gambling.

There is actually evidence that VR casinos could be used to help treat gambling addiction in a therapeutic setting, though this is clearly very different to using it for real money gambling. At this stage, more research is needed to establish the effects VR can have on gamblers themselves.

The future

According to a report on the Global VR Gambling Market 2018-22 by analyst firm Technavio, the VR gambling market is estimated to see a compound annual growth rate of almost 55% by 2022. This amounts to an incremental growth of $360m from 2017 to 2022. Of course, the use of VR technology is increasing across many industries and no more so than the gaming sector, so it’s natural that casinos and game developers will continue to experiment.

The real question is whether enough players show enough interest to make VR casinos a sustainable long-term alternative. The early signs have been positive, but at the moment it’s difficult to say whether VR casino gaming will be a success. There is certainly potential, as shown by the efforts made by software developers and gambling operators to bring VR technology to the casino world. There also seems to be an appetite for VR games on the player side as well, though whether enough players will invest in VR remains to be seen.