Here’s why Zynga is good for poker

February 22, 2012, Chris  

For many of us, Zynga is the thing we hate most about Facebook, getting requests to harvest crops from high school classmates we don’t even remember.

For poker players, however, getting Zynga to join the fun when Internet poker is finally regulated in the United States may be like landing the homecoming queen as your prom date.

If you’re one of the seven people not on Facebook, Zynga has built a multibillion-dollar empire developing the most popular social-networking games in the world. You can plant seeds in FarmVille, whack wiseguys in Mafia Wars, find out how dumb you are in Words With Friends and, of course, match wits with friends and foes alike in Zynga Poker.

Zynga lines its ivory castle by selling credits to players to help them advance in the games. And it’s because of this wildly simple and wildly successful business model that Zynga has danced around whether it wants to bet its$9 billion net worth on real-money poker.

Consistently, and as recently as Jan. 2, Zynga officials have insisted they have no interest in getting into for-money online poker. At least one reason given is that execs fear playing for real money may destroy the playful competition its customers wage daily with friends and family. (We have to assume Shaun Deeb and his grandmother don’t have Zynga accounts).

But in an earnings conference call on Feb. 16, Zynga’s chief operating officer John Schappert finally put a name to unconfirmed rumors that the company was possibly having a change of heart.

“I think it’s actually a very interesting opportunity, because we’re in an unique position,” Schappert said of for-money gaming. “We have the world’s largest online poker game.”

So I think it’s time for us to start wondering what the world of poker will be like with Zynga in the middle of it.

What’s the one stat that has led more online poker sites to crash and burn than any other? Player liquidity. And it’s simply not an issue for Zynga. I’d tell you its poker game, the largest free one in the world, gets 7 million daily users and has more than 30 million overall users. But those numbers are likely to be hopelessly out of date by the time you’re reading this. Suffice to say, it’s big. Huge, as Donald Trump would say. No doubt, casino giants such as Caesars Entertainment will kick open the gates with large player bases, but there’s not a company on earth that wouldn’t drool over having7 million daily players right now.

For sure, sharp players are salivating over the prospect of so many free poker players turned loose in a for-money environment. But aside from the fact that, if we’re all honest, we’ll admit we’ve lost more money in our playing careers to the Radars of the world than to the Hawkeyes, that’s not why we should be excited. The reason is cultivating tomorrow’s poker players took a huge hit on April 15, 2011.

No longer being able to play poker easily in the comfort of their pajamas led many prospective players to pick up new hobbies. Some won’t return when online poker does. Many didn’t make the leap to the live poker world, either. We need a non-intimidating feeder system for the world of poker. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Zynga.

The one reason Zynga executives seemingly have been resistant to enter our world is the one reason it’s so vital that it does.

— Scott Long is co-publisher of Ante Up. Email scott@anteupmagazine.com.