Face bookies: Gamble me social! By Luke Haward January 27, 2015 at 8:40 am A new technological convergence which has already swept across Europe seems set to make inroads in the USA, at least where states allow online gambling. The arenas of social networking and real money gambling each have a number of mega-corporations, and these behemoths appear to be quite interested in moving into the other domain. Moves have already been made by giants on both sides. Social media gaming companies are investing directly in real money online gambling. And major names in the gambling industry are purchasing social games and platforms. A key player Zynga, who brought the world-famous and much-imitated Farmville game to the web. The company, a massive online media presence with assets of over $2 billion at the end of 2013, recently partnered with PartyPoker to offer real money poker play, alongside free play, so that Facebook users could register and play for real money in a matter of minutes. Zynga attempted to move directly into the U.S. market, making sustained efforts to obtain a real money gambling license in Nevada. They ceased this effort in September 2013, stating that they were re-focusing their expansion efforts. This is likely to be more of a hiatus than a halt. The coalition with PartyPoker is a serious indication that Zynga is putting down roots in the online gambling scene, and we can expect to see more of that in coming years. Another big play has been made by RealNetworks, who announced in July 2013 the acquisition of Slingo, a hugely popular social game, for $15.6 million. Slingo is a very playable combination of bingo and slots, and has traditionally been played without real money deposits. The suspicion is that this may change with the RealNetworks acquisition. Many online companies are playing the long game, waiting until the regulation becomes looser with regard to online gambling in the United States. They are quietly acquiring games and formats which will be ready to go when opportunity presents itself, and whose worth will doubtlessly then skyrocket. Meanwhile, they can make moves in Europe and across many other parts of the world, to reap immediate benefit from their new investments. From the gambling industry’s side, there have been some substantial moves made on U.S. soil. New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement announced in October 2014 that they would accept submissions for both skill-based and social games. They are keen to put in place regulations in order to allow existing online and land-based casinos to offer such games for real money play. It is well known that the launch of online gambling in New Jersey has not managed to pull that state’s gambling industry out of decline. A new emphasis on social and even skill-based games may be a more effective means of boosting revenue. This move also seems in line with recent efforts within the industry to appeal to younger, move web-savvy players, and to focus on these users’ current games of interest. Some suspect that we will see an influx of “free-to-play” skill games hosted by casinos in an effort to encourage transition to slots, others that we will see slots/skill-game hybrids hitting the market. One clear indicator that things are moving increasingly in this direction within the U.S. is IGT’s acquisition of Doubledown. IGT is the world’s biggest gaming machine developer, now owned by GTECH; Doubledown is a social casino games developer. The deal cost more than $400 million, a huge commitment that indicates the size of the potential for social gaming. These moves have been criticized as encouraging younger or even under-age play. It does seem that there are genuine issues associated with the relationship between social networking and gambling. Even casinos put in place rigorous security measures to restrict children from real money play, the free-to-play versions of these games will increasingly be available to all, particularly as they propagate via social networks such as Facebook. One recent U.K. study, done in 2011 when this approach was somewhat less ubiquitous, found that one in seven children aged 11-16 had played a “free or practice” gambling game online during the week of the survey. Where these moves will take the industry is anybody’s guess for now. But there’s certainly a change in the air, and as it hits the social networks it’s ever more likely to become universal.