Robert Melendres opens up about IGT’s current and future plans for DoubleDown Casino

It’s been nine months since International Game Technology purchased Double Down Interactive. We recently sat down to talk to IGT VP of Emerging Business Robert Melendres to discuss the company’s current and future plans for DoubleDown Casino, as well as why it’s not planning get in on the real-money game any time soon.

Real-money gaming is the field that social game developers have been eyeing for a while, but are now starting to make serious steps into. This summer marked the beginning of real-money titles coming to Facebook, as well as other companies like Betable providing developers ways to bring the technology to more casual games. However, Melendres tells us this isn’t what IGT’s planning. Instead, he explains, “Right now we’re very much focused on taking social gaming product and driving that very very hard as a way of helping our casino properties leverage online gaming.”

The company’s attention isn’t actually focused on real-money gaming because of how complicated it is here in the United States right now. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 currently makes real-money gaming between states illegal (although certain states do allow mobile users to engage in online gambling under extremely specific and limited circumstances). Although it’s expected the act will be overturned within the next few years, it’s also likely that real-money gaming will become a state-by-state issue. As a result, Melendres acknowledges IGT isn’t really interested in pursuing real-money gaming because “right now, we’re in a period of uncertainty with U.S. legislation.”

That said, the company isn’t dismissing the idea of incorporating real-money gaming with its social titles, should the opportunity arise. Melendres tells us, “From IGT’s perspective, [real-money gaming] is ours for the taking … IGT is one of the very few companies that’s been on both sides so we’ve been able to see what happens in the real currency world and social gaming side.”

Instead, IGT engaging in the “DoubleDown Partnership Program,” thereby spreading DoubleDown Casino’s presence on the web by allowing customers to incorporate the game into their own casino sites. Melendres explains to us this serves three purposes: It allows IGT to stay connected to their players, providing a casino floor experience from anywhere; it provides an incentive to come back to the actual casino; finally, everyone gets to make money because the casinos are enable to engage in revenue sharing.

Melendres says it’s expected real-money gaming will come to social poker games first. When this happens, casinos will have poker offerings online, he explains. “The beauty of what we’re doing right now is that I truly believe the DoubleDown Partner Program is a superior offering to the poker program,” he says, noting that partner casinos can offer DoubleDown Casino’s content to any country in the world because the game isn’t restricted by regional gambling laws.

Combining the social and iGaming audiences makes sense, but when we ask about how these groups monetize Melendres explains the conversion rates are still dramatically different. Although he declines to go into specifics about how IGT’s social players convert he acknowledges the percentage is low. However, he says the number of players who monetize is still tremendous in terms of actual size and the revenue they generate; Melendres also notes social games’ conversion rates are similar to the numbers seen during the early days of iGaming and they will likely raise to igaming’s levels as time goes on.

IGT isn’t just expanding DoubleDown Casino out to new web platforms, the company is also adding to the game’s content. Bingo was recently launched within DoubleDown Casino. As opposed to Bingo on other sites, the version within DoubleDown Casino allows players to play up to 12 cards per round (usually, players are limited to four cards per round). While Bingo is the latest game to appear in DoubleDown Casino, it’s certainly not the last. Melendres tells us IGT’s ongoing strategy is to continue launching games within DoubleDown Casino.

“We want to be responsive to the marketplace and not just have a formula, but right now our formula is working. Right now we’re focused on developing the DoubleDown brand and will continue to leverage that … as it sits right now, I really feel like I’ve got the best social casino [on the web].”