Zynga Bringing Real-Money Gaming to Facebook in the U.K.

Zynga is close to launching its real-money gaming efforts in the U.K., which it is betting will generate all kinds of new revenue for the company.

blackjack_cardsAs evidence of the impending launch, two websites have already gone live in the U.K. to start spreading the word. One is dedicated to poker, and the other features a variety of casino games, like slots, bingo and roulette.

But during Zynga’s fourth-quarter conference call yesterday, the company disclosed a new piece of information: Its real-money casino efforts will not be limited to standalone websites. In fact, Zynga will also be leveraging the Facebook platform.

Zynga Chief Revenue Officer Barry Cottle confirmed to AllThingsD: “We’ve been working with Bwin to expand the platform to ultimately be able to offer real-money gaming across the Web, PC download, Facebook, and then hopefully mobile, as well.”

Enabling Zynga to conduct real-money gaming in the U.K. is significant for both parties.

Zynga is by far the largest game maker on the social network, and its poker game is the third-most-popular game on the platform. By allowing Zynga to take and pay out real money in the U.K., Facebook is opening the floodgates to gambling. Likewise, by being allowed to operate poker or other casino games on Facebook, Zynga will be able to tap into its existing network of players more easily than it could from a third-party site.

“Poker on a global basis is a very successful franchise, with 37 million [monthly active users],” Cottle said, although he did not know the specific number of players in the U.K.

This will not be Facebook’s first foray into real-money gaming in Britain, where online gambling is legal for adults over the age of 18. In August, it allowed Gamesys to launch bingo, marking the first and only game on the network, but now that seems like a very small test. At the time, Reuters reported that Facebook had no plans to offer gambling in any other countries or with any other partners.

But a Facebook spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that things have changed, and that more rollouts were coming: “Real-money gaming is a popular and well-regulated activity in the U.K., and we are allowing a few developers to offer games there to adult users on Facebook Platform in a safe and controlled manner.”

Online gambling continues to be unregulated in the U.S., except for in a small number of states, including Nevada. Zynga has begun the arduous process of getting licensed there, but it will likely take months, if not more than a year. Even if it gets approved, it will only be able to operate in that state, so it’s unlikely that Zynga or Facebook will roll out gambling in the U.S. anytime soon.

During Zynga’s conference call, the company confirmed that its two websites — ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlusCasino games — will launch by the end of June. The additional platforms, including PC download and Facebook, are also expected to launch during the first half of the year, but not necessarily at the same time.

As a reminder of why Zynga is getting into the real-money space, Cottle said, “It was in response to our players. We did some research, and a subset of our players were either already playing or wanted to play [real-money games], and trusted the Zynga brand. Given that we have the largest online poker game in the world, it seems natural to offer that as an extension.”

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