What legal online gambling could mean to social gaming

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Since 2006, online gambling has been illegal in the United States, forcing the lucrative market overseas. The law has also forced social gaming companies to make their Facebook poker games into strictly fake-money affairs (even though many players buy and sell chips for real money through shady third-party services).

That could all be set to change though, with word that the House Financial Services Committee has passed a measure that would legalize and regulate many forms of online gambling, including online poker. If and when the bill eventually becomes law, social games like Zynga's HoldEm Poker, Playdom's World Series of Poker and the millions of other Facebook poker games would seem perfectly positioned to open up the floodgates for real-money bets (assuming Facebook was willing to allow them to, that is). Apparently we're not the only ones to think so, either -- Business Insider quotes a "source close to Zynga" as saying that the company "would be excited to move into real-money poker given the opportunity."

But why stop there? Legal gambling could spread to all sorts of social games. Imagine an in-game Farmville slot machine that takes real money (in the form of Facebook Credits) and occasionally gives back a Farmville cash jackpot. Or imagine having the ability to bet with friends on the outcome of a Bejeweled Blitz high score contest. With many social games already resembling glorified slot machines, we shudder to think at the addictive (and pocketbook-destroying) potential that real-world gambling could have on the social gaming space.
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