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E3: Virgin's Richard Branson dives back into games

  Richard Branson Virgin Gaming

Richard Branson, who jumped 407 feet from the top of the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas in 2007 to promote Virgin America's domestic flight service in the U.S., took a virtual leap back into video games.

Branson announced a joint venture with WorldGaming.com, a small Canadian start-up, to launch on Tuesday Virgin Gaming, a service that lets thumb jockeys duke it out for cash. Because of its potential association with gambling, such betting is only allowed in 39 states, including California.

As chairman of the Virgin Group, Branson has been a billionaire with a flair for showmanship. When he bungie jumped off the Palms, he threw out free airplane tickets. At a press conference held on the eve of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, the British industrialist pledged that Virgin Gaming would give away $1 million in cash and other prizes over the next 12 months.

The endeavor is Branson's second dive into video games. His company's Virgin Interactive unit published console and computer games from 1981 to 1998 before he sold the business to Electronic Arts.

"Virgin loves to jump in where there is a gap in the market," Branson said. "As a brand, we're one of the most respected. ... Obviously, gaming is one of the most important for this generation."

Branson jokingly added, "I lost both my children for three to four years to gaming."

And we're sure he's hoping he won't lose a portion of his $2.5-billion net worth on Virgin Gaming.

-- Alex Pham

Photo: Richard Branson, center, with William Levy, left, and Zack Zeldin, the founders of WorldGaming.com. Credit: Alex Pham / Los Angeles Times

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