Former Zynga VP Ya-Bing Chu Placing a Bet on Real-Money Gaming

Betable, the London-based company that is helping to bring real-money gaming to mobile phones, has hired Ya-Bing Chu, a former vice president at Zynga.

While at Zynga, Chu worked as a general manager of the company’s mobile divison, responsible for operating massively popular games like Words With Friends and Scramble With Friends. Before that, he worked on Zynga Poker, FarmVille, PetVille and the company’s own portal at Zynga.com.

“This is an opportunity to pioneer this business, and this was too good to pass up,” said Chu, who left as part of a mass exodus from the struggling publicly held company. Zynga’s first game was Poker, and it was the granddaddy of all its games. It’s the most steady, and the demand is always there.

Betable is currently licensed by the gambling commission in the U.K., where its servers are located. Since any gambling on its platform technically occurs in that country — on its servers — it can legally operate most anywhere. However, Betable, which also has offices in San Francisco, is self-electing to stay out of certain areas, like the U.S., where online gambling is expressly prohibited — at least for now.

Betable is not building its own games, but rather making its technology available to third parties interested in diving into the real-money world. The obvious benefit to any developers is that they will not have to go through the lengthy process of getting their own licenses, or facing regulatory scrutiny, because Betable has done all that hard work.

The company recently announced that Big Fish Games has launched a Betable-powered real-money version of its hit iOS title Big Fish Casino in the U.K. It has also signed up other game studios, including Slingo, Digital Chocolate and Murka Games, to its private beta program. Currently, Zynga is not yet working with Betable, but has signed a partnership deal with Bwin.party, a real-money gaming operator in the U.K., to launch an online gambling site. Betable takes a share of the revenue.

Chu said he’s hopeful that the steady stream of revenue that comes from real-money gaming will give game companies the capital to reinvest in making new games, since it monetizes so much better than normal social or mobile games. “The real problem is that it’s a hits-driven business, and if you don’t know where it’s going, you’ll be forced to copy successes in the market,” he said.

Betable’s CEO & founder, Chris Griffin, said they are targeting mobile games first. “Every industry is being affected by the transition to mobile. It’s definitely here, but the only thing that’s holding back innovation is the license.”

Betable, which was founded in 2011, now has 18 employees. Other recent hires include Jeffrey Kalmikoff, head of user experience, and Mike Malone, head of engineering. There are also employees from Klout, Electronic Arts  and Gree.


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