Could Zynga gamble with friends?

January 20, 2012

Investors were salivating on Friday at the prospect of Zynga breaking into online gambling. The company said it is in “active conversations with potential partners” to try and figure out the market, which sent its shares up 7 percent.

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department declared that only online betting on sports is unlawful, setting the stage for some U.S. states to legalize online gambling.

Melissa Riahei, general counsel at the online gaming company, U.S. Digital gaming, said Zynga would not be able to enter the $35 billion online casino market on its own. If Internet gaming is legalized, Zynga would have to partner with an operator that could get a license for Internet gambling, like a casino, and have to figure out which states it can work in.

Still, “the opportunity is huge. Zynga has a very good chance of being a big player in this market because of the player base it can bring”, she said.

Zynga has 30 million monthly players of its poker game and it could also could jump into gambling on the go–on a smartphone or tablet.

Paul Bettner, who leads the Zynga studio behind top mobile games like “Words with Friends”  said he is monitoring the new industry closely but nothing has been decided yet.

“I can’t speak to whether there will be ‘A Gamble with Friends’ game in the future. I think some of those mechanics are interesting and could be very fun in mobile games. I am very intrigued by that,” Bettner said.

Bettner said “slotomania”, a slot machine game on the App store charts is “monetizing well”.  Caesars Entertainment now owns that game but no real money is wagered in those virtual slots.

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