Forget "Mafia Wars," Zynga Is Getting Into the Gambling Business

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 6 2012 3:17 PM

If You Thought "FarmVille" Was Addictive, Wait Till You See What Zynga Is Doing Next

Zynga Nevada gaming license
One way for Zynga to get a gaming license in Nevada might be to partner with an existing casino.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Zynga Poker is fun at first. But after a while, one of two things happens. Either you get tired of losing, or you get tired of not winning actual money.

The luster is likewise fading from once-hot Zynga titles like FarmVille, CityVille, and Mafia Wars, and the San Francisco-based social gaming company's stock has plummeted. It turns out people are only willing to shell out so much real money for the "virtual goods" that Zynga hawks in those games. So now the struggling company has a new revenue proposition: actual poker. For actual cash.

Reuters reports that the company has applied to the Nevada Gaming Control Board for a "preliminary finding of suitability" to run an online gaming operation in the state. As TechCrunch's Anthony Ha explains, that's an alternative to the traditional first step toward getting a gaming license in the state, which is to approach the commission with a deal in hand to buy a casino. The more likely path for Zynga is to partner with an existing casino in the state once it's clear that state and federal regulations will allow it.

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The move by Zynga is a bold (or desperate) bet that a wave of states will begin to allow online gambling now that the Justice Department appears to have cleared a path. Though its faddish Facebook games are literally going out of style, Zynga's sheer size and experience in the online gaming field would seem to position it well to capitalize on such a trend. If that happens, though, it might need to rethink the rhetoric about how its games are "addictive."

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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