Zynga applies for Nevada gambling license

Fans of Zynga Poker may soon have the chance to give up the game's virtual currency and play for real-world stakes. The struggling social games maker recently took its first step to obtaining a gaming license in the state of Nevada.

Zynga Thursday confirmed for PCWorld that it has applied for an "Application for a Preliminary Finding of Suitability from the Nevada Gaming Control Board."

"This filing continues our strategic effort to enter regulated RMG [real-money gaming] markets in a prudent way," Zynga's Chief Revenue Officer, Barry Cottle said in a statement. "We anticipate that the process will take approximately 12- to 18-months to complete. As we've said previously, the broader U.S. market is an opportunity that's further out on the horizon based on legislative developments, but we are preparing for a regulated market."

If approved, Zynga would be able to offer online gambling to anyone within Nevada. But the hope is that after undergoing the rigors of obtaining a Nevada gaming license, the company would have an easier time getting potential licenses in other U.S. states, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It's not clear how long it would take for Zynga to obtain a gaming license in Nevada. The company's current application aims to prove to Nevada that Zynga is fit to run a gambling operation in the state, a process that could take anywhere from a year to 18 months.

Zynga, once the most dominant game maker on Facebook, has seen the popularity of titles such as FarmVille and CityVille wane in recent months, resulting in lackluster earnings reports. Facebook recently announced its top rated games for 2012, a list that put Zynga games such as FarmVille 2 and Draw Something outside the top 10 in favor of games from FreshPlanet, Social Point and Rovio.

The state of online gambling

Nevada took steps in 2011 to legalize online poker within the state, but has not yet addressed other casino games such as slot machines or blackjack. Several other states are also working on legislation to control online gambling, clearing the way for companies like Zynga to operate real money gambling houses online. Delaware legalized online casino gambling in June with the Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act of 2012. And New Jersey is considering a bill that would legalize Internet gaming within Atlantic City casinos. Internet gambling was given a boost in 2011 when the Department of Justice said that only sports betting violated the Federal Wire Act – a law that many scholars and critics believed could be used to prohibit online casinos.

It's not clear what Zynga's gaming plans would be if it is granted an online gambling license from Nevada, but it seems the company hopes to revive its sagging fortunes with real-stakes poker. Zynga is already making moves to introduce real-money poker in the U.K. through a partnership announced in October with online gambling firm bwin.party.

But it's possible Zynga could one day move beyond poker and introduce other casino games such as blackjack, slots, or even bingo. If Zynga was particularly inventive, or desperate depending on your point of view, it could also figure out ways to introduce gambling into current games.

Imagine, for example, speculating on crop futures in FarmVille or a casino-styled version of Words with Friends similar to video Scrabble machinesintroduced in 2009.

Zynga is not the first company to turn to gambling to reinvigorate its business. Playboy Enterprises, faced with sagging publishing revenues from its men's magazine, on several occasions has tried to trade on its brand recognition to move into gambling. Most recently, the company in 2010 announced several casinos around the world including locations in China and Mexico.

Story updated 12/06/2013 at 11:30 p.m. PST

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