Would you like to bet on what may be the next big thing in games? Place a wager on real-money gambling, and you could be in for some good returns. Today, when games developer Big Fish launched a new iPhone app called Big Fish Casino, it announced it would raise the stakes in the UK by introducing real-money gambling into it (courtesy of well-backed gambling platform Betable) — making this the first time that a real-money gambling game will be available in the App Store.
This may be a first for the App Store, but it’s part of a growing interest in real-money gambling. The news comes just one week after the introduction of the first real-money gambling app on Facebook (also in the UK) and at the same time that a report has emerged of Zynga lobbying hard to get in-game gambling cleared in the U.S., too.
The gambling back end for Big Fish Casino will come from Betable, the social betting company that has secured an undisclosed amount of funding from a select group of investors including Greylock, CrunchFund, Yuri Milner’s Start Fund, Founders Fund, True Ventures, Path co-founder Dave Morin, former Wikia CEO Gil Penchina, Delicious’ Josh Schachter, StockTwits’ Howard Lindzon and LOLApps former CEO Arjun Sethi.
Up to now, Betable has been operating in private alpha, and this appears to be the first public application of its betting engine in a public service. In-game gambling apps would complement real-money betting apps, many from existing off-track betting shops, already available in the UK App Store.
Big Fish Casino is the relaunch of Card Ace: Casino, an app made by Self Aware Studios, which was bought by Big Fish in March. Card Ace already had one million active players, all of whom will transition to the newly-rebranded edition of the game.
While real-money gambling is only getting turned on in the UK version of the iOS app, users in other markets like the U.S. will be still be able to share chips across different games, chat with other players and give virtual gifts. The non-gambling version of Casino will be available on Google Play, Amazon’s Appstore, the App Store and Facebook.
But the really hot action is happening over on the other side of the pond, and only on iOS. The UK version of the iPhone app, which Big Fish says will be coming online “within the next few weeks,” will see users able to put hard currency down on blackjack, roulette and video poker games, with the rollout happening “in the coming months.” Other games in the “casino” include Texas Hold ‘Em and slots.
TechCrunch understands that the app is still getting approved by Apple at the moment, and Big Fish has not announced whether it plans to extend the real-money gambling to other platforms, or other markets outside of the UK.
The move to offer real-money gambling in games comes as developers and the platforms that host them look for more ways to keep users engaged, and in the case of developers spending more money. “We have a strong conviction that mobile apps that combine social and real-money gambling are a powerful way to engage more users and increase overall monetization,” said Paul Thelen, Founder and CEO of Big Fish, in a statement.
But at the same time, even if Apple is allowing gambling into the App Store, it’s not getting involved in the form of in-app billing or any other stakes, according to Apple spokesperson Tom Neumayr (via Bloomberg).
That’s also the approach being taken by Facebook. The world’s biggest social network has also started to allow real-money gambling into its walled garden, with Gamesys last week launching Bingo & Slots Friendzy the first Facebook app with real-money gambling incorporated. But for now, this is just more of a test than a full-blown strategy, and Facebook is careful to distance itself from the development of the game itself, merely offering the platform for it to exist.
“Facebook is a place that allows people to connect and share,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch last week. “Real money gaming is a popular and well-regulated activity in the UK and we are allowing a partner to offer their games to adult users on the Facebook platform in a safe and controlled manner.”
Indeed, it looks like for now, with U.S. lawmakers yet to approve real-money gambling on social and mobile games, developers are looking to test the waters in the UK, which has more liberal rules and serves as a good gateway not just for looking at usage patterns in Europe, but also in an English speaking country with demographics similar to those in the U.S.
As for the U.S., Zynga — which has also said that it would like to introduce gambling into its games — appears to be working hard to get legislators to change their mind on their policy. The WSJ reports that the company is investing in lobbying both at the state and federal level to improve the image of gambling services.
In California, it focused its efforts around the Internet Gambling Consumer Protection and Public-Private Partnership Act of 2012, which the WSJ notes would give gambling companies licenses worth $30 million, and the ability to partner with companies like Zynga to offer online gambling services. That bill is still in play.
In the meantime, the opportunity outside of the U.S. is huge. Betable’s chief executive, Chris Griffin, told TechCrunch earlier this year that internationally, online gambling is a $32 billion market, compared to $3 billion for social gaming, which works out to $300 spent in online gambling for every $1 on social gaming.