Zynga Acquires Spooky Cool Labs To Boost Its Social Casino Push

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In spite of the recent layoffs, Zynga is still picking up talent in strategic areas like social casino gaming.

The company bought a roughly 40-person team called Spooky Cool Labs full of real-money gaming talent. Based in Chicago, the Spooky Cool Labs team is made up of social and real money gaming veterans from companies such as Aristocrat, and slot machine makers like IGT (International Game Technology) and WMS Gaming. The company’s founder, Joe Kaminkow, was ranked as one of the 10 most influential people in the history of slots by Strictly Slots Magazine.

But from Spooky Cool’s website, the company looks like it had been working on non-casino titles like a Wizard of Oz city-building social game. Zynga says that access to this Wizard of Oz brand is part of the deal.

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The team will stay in Chicago and work with Zynga’s San Francisco-based social casino gaming team. In another interesting twist to this deal, Kaminkow will apparently also still lead game design at Aristocrat Leisure Limited, an Australian company that’s one of the biggest slots makers in the world. He told VentureBeat back in March that he had taken a job as a senior vice president of game development at Aristocrat Leisure. Spooky Cool also had backing from the Hearst Corporation, but they didn’t disclose the amount of funding.

As Zynga grapples with how to approach mobile platforms, it has relied on one of its old standbys: Zynga Poker. At the same time, the company has made steps toward exploring how to incorporate real money into its betting games.

The company made its first real-money games live in the U.K. in April, just after the first-quarter closed. But it has yet to bring these real-money efforts to the Facebook platform or mobile in that market. In December, the company also applied for a “preliminary finding of suitability” from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, starting a process that could take more than a year.