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Zynga online gambling could mean real money, but real problems

Zynga may try its hand at online gambling, which ZDNet's Larry Dignan says might be both a great business move and a real problem.

Zynga's possible plans to enter online gambling spurs a bipolar reaction for me. The capitalist in me drools over the potential business model, but the do-gooder worries about gambling addiction and sees an epic societal train wreck ahead.

AllThingsD has a big overview of Zynga's plans to enter online gambling. There are a bunch of caveats, of course--Zynga, for instance, has to navigate state and federal regulators--but it's highly likely that Zynga Poker will be played with real money at some point.

From a business perspective, Zynga's gambling exploration is absolutely brilliant. We all know the house always wins with casinos. Zynga becomes a casino--on an addictive platform like Facebook, no less--and cash will be raining from the skies. Online gambling changes everything for Zynga from a business model perspective. Today, Zynga needs a stream of gaming hits. It can stumble just like a Hollywood studio that hits a dry spell.

Gambling changes all of that. Gambling is commerce and folks will be handing over cash to Zynga with abandon. This Zynga-meets-gambling model is a capitalist's dream. Zynga can and should pursue online gambling.

Once I'm done counting virtual cash though, the dangers become apparent. Gamblers' Anonymous will freak. Zynga and gambling will be like crack to those who can't control the urge to wager. Combine it with the addictive nature of a platform like Facebook and you have a double whammy.

Let's face it. People leave their kids in the car in the heat and cold to go into casinos. People go into debt to gamble. People are already hooked on online gambling. The barriers to entry would fade away in a Zynga-Facebook environment.

Now, not everyone is addicted to gambling, but for those who are Zynga's online gambling adventure is going to be scary. Am I being an alarmist? Perhaps. But I usually skew to the capitalist-pig side of any equation. My gut tells me this Zynga gambling effort could have some major societal repercussions.

This story originally appeared at ZDNet's Between the Lines under the headline "Zynga online gambling plan: One dangerous cash cow".