Mike Isaac

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Zynga’s Big Bet on Real-Money Gaming to Launch This Week in the U.K.

ZyngaPlusCasino Games ScreenshotIt’s about time Zynga doubled down.

The company will roll out two real-money versions of its casino and poker games in the next few days, marking the gaming giant’s first offerings in the online gambling space.

“Our whole mission is to be the platform of play,” Barry Cottle, Zynga’s chief revenue officer, said in an interview. “At heart, we’re a social gaming company. We view real-money gaming as a natural extension of that.”

The first two games to launch should be familiar; ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlusCasino are both in the spirit of Zynga’s most popular types of games. And it’s pretty logical that any foray into real-money gaming would focus on casino-style choices. We’ve known this was coming for some time, too, as the two sites’ landing pages have been up and waiting to launch for a little while.

This is the fruit of Zynga’s partnership with Bwin, a major operator in the United Kingdom which has licenses to operate online, real-money gaming websites in multiple countries across the U.K. Without that partnership, Zynga would have had to sort through a regulatory quagmire of securing licenses across countries. Fortunately for Zynga, Bwin already did all the work.

But I’d imagine this launch as a sort of testing period, if you will. For one, the two games are only launching on the Web and for desktop client download — not on Facebook, and not for mobile quite yet. Cottle said that’s Zynga’s way of seeing how the market reacts, and how Zynga should proceed from there.

“In the first versions of the launch, there’s a lot of things to get feedback on,” Cottle told AllThingsD. “Then over time you’ll be able to play different versions, with more elements added to the games.” The company does indeed plan to roll out the games to Facebook and mobile devices — just not right away.

It’s also likely testing in another, more regional way. As most U.S. users know, online gambling was outlawed widely in the states years ago. But New Jersey and Nevada are in the process of changing some of their laws to make online gambling legal. If things go well, it could pave the way for future U.S. states to change their laws to allow gambling as well. Zynga, in the meanwhile, can test and prepare its real-money games in markets where it’s already legal. I.e., the United Kingdom.

Don’t expect a sudden burst of revenue here. It’s still an early initiative, and won’t be widely available on multiple platforms until later in the year. But for now, we should see the first two gaming sites go live within the next few days.

Update 1:45 p.m. PST: And would you look at that, the street seems to like the news. Shares of Zynga were trading up around 5.5 percent at $3.24 in after-hours.

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