The Israeli gambling company 888 recently bet the house on social-media gambling, signing an agreement with Facebook to become its largest gambling-game provider.
888 will operate a bingo and slot machines app called Bingo Appy - which users play with real money.
Facebook is a new platform for the company, which has 1,500 employees worldwide, including almost 600 at its back-end office in Herzliya. It handles all aspects of its business, including developing games, drawing in players, gathering credit card information and processing account payments.
Facebook only got into gambling this summer, running a pilot for real-money gambling with the British company Gamesys in August. The recent deal makes 888 the second gambling company to operate on Facebook. Users must be 18 years of age or older.
Facebook will get a cut of the profits that both Gamesys and 888 make through the social media website. The details of the agreements have not been made public, but Facebook earns 30 percent of the revenues generated by the non-gambling apps and games that it makes available to its users.
"Real-money gaming is a popular and well-regulated activity in the U.K., and we are allowing our partners to offer their games to adult users on the Facebook platform in a safe and controlled manner," Facebook said in a statement.
At first, the service will only be available to Facebook users in the United Kingdom. Later, 888 plans to expand to other countries and include more games. It will, of course, be subject to the gambling laws of each country, including those that restrict access to minors and compulsive gamblers. In Israel, where most forms of gambling are illegal, the games will be blocked entirely.
"This is a significant step in the social networking world – only recently Facebook opened its doors to online real money games," says Itai Frieberger, 888's vice president of operations and the company's senior-most Israeli executive. "From our perspective, the main positive is that out of all the companies operating in the gambling and social sphere, they chose us. There will be only a very few, two or three but no more, who will operate this gambling area around the world. Facebook's choice is a vote of confidence in us."
Julien Codorniou, Facebook's head of partnerships for Europe, the Middle East and Africa also sounded an upbeat note following the signing of the agreement.
"Facebook is a great platform for playing games with your friends and we are really pleased to be working with 888, who have a strong reputation on both the quality and safety of their games,” said Codorniou.
Until Wednesday, December 12, when the agreement was signed, 888 operated on social media through the Israeli social game developer Mytopia, which it acquired for $18 million in 2010. But that was before the introduction of real-money gambling games on social networks.
"Facebook agreed to open its platform to the world of real-money games," says Frieberger. "The first product that we'll launch is a bingo game. We are the biggest bingo-game operator in England, which is the biggest market in the world for the game. In the future, there will be other products in additional countries."
The new bingo game combines elements of social games and real-money gambling.
"The essence of the game is preserved – the ability of the player to win and lose their money are preserved," says Frieberger. "Facebook-y elements have been added to this, by posting status updates from the game and inviting Facebook 'friends' to join the game."
The game will only be accessible through Facebook, and will be differentiated from the company's other offerings.
"From our viewpoint, it opens a new world of client acquisition – a completely different arena from the one we recognize," says Frieberger. “They are allowing us to operate on their platform and are providing us access to another new platform. Thus, we will be able to bring in new clients, to create different methods of acquiring users and add another segment to our product that wasn't available to almost anyone before now."
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