Would You Play Zynga Poker for Real Money?

By Devon Glenn 

For gamers who can’t get enough online poker, Zynga may be raising the stakes. The Wall Street Journal reports that the social gaming company is investing in lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. and California to allow gambling for real money online.

Zynga’s games are currently played for virtual goods, although this is about to change. “We’re developing a new growth opportunity in real money gaming that builds on our strong casino presence with Zynga Poker, the world’s largest free Poker game and our new hits, Bingo and Slots,” Zynga CEO Mark Pincus told shareholders in a quarterly earnings call.

This could mean a lot more money for Zynga. According to VentureBeat, “While 2 or 3 percent of Zynga’s users spend money ($2 or $3 per user per month) in social casino games, online gambling is much more lucrative. Online gambling revenues often reach $300 per paying user per month.”

AdAge reports that Zynga could make $5 billion in annual revenue from online gambling alone. Facebook, which takes a 30 percent cut of the payments made on Zynga’s virtual goods, would also see more revenue as a result.

But running a gambling operation is risky business in itself. In 2011, the federal government shut down three of the country’s largest online poker sites. The founders of those sites, among others, were accused of laundering money in order to get around legislation that prohibited them from accepting payments in the United States.

Naturally, Zynga wants to be on the right side of the law. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Zynga disclosed employing Washington-based Bay Bridge Strategies Inc. and Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart Inc. during the period, to monitor ‘legislation pertaining to regulation and taxation of Internet gambling’ in the House and Senate. In California, Zynga hired Platinum Advisors to lobby during the quarter ended in June around a bill introduced in the state senate earlier this year that would establish licensing for online poker providers.”

For now, the company will start its gambling operations overseas. Said Pincus, “We expect to launch our first real money gaming products in international markets in the first half of 2013, subject to licensing approvals.”