Can Zynga Rob the Casinos?
Is Zynga about to pull off the great casino robbery?
The online game company launched Zynga Plus Casino and Zynga Plus Poker on Wednesday, allowing people in the United Kingdom to play casino-type games with real money. Zynga shareholders hit the jackpot, as the stock surged 15 percent.
However, Zynga's real hopes seem to lie outside the U.K. In fact, Zynga already lets U.K. users play with dollars, euros, yen, and Canadian dollars.
"Our long term vision is to offer our players the next generation of real money games on multiple platforms in regulated markets worldwide," Zynga's Chief Revenue Officer Barry Cottle wrote in a blog post published Tuesday.
When it comes to the United States, online gambling is illegal in most states, but exceptions to that rule are already beginning to crop up in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware.
(Read More: Understanding the Impact of Online Gambling)
So can Zynga pose a real threat to brick-and-mortar casino companies?
"It's a totally different consumer," said U.S. Digital Gaming Chairman Richard "Skip" Bronson. "It's the person who's going to watch television versus the person who's going to go to the movies. Nobody's going to sit home and gamble instead of taking three hours to go to a casino—it's a totally different experience."
Chad Benyon, who covers casino stocks for Macquarie, agrees with that assessment.
"The demographic of people that play social gaming games or online games is very different from the consumers that are actually go to casinos," Benyon said. "The average person who goes to a regional casino is in their 50s or 60s, is maybe a woman, and is retired or has time on their hands. But when you look at who does online gaming in the U.K., that's usually more educated middle-aged men, particularly when it comes to online poker."
Benyon doesn't think that Zynga has a great chance in the United States. "The problem is that online gambling is not a federal issue," said Benyon. "So within that structure, guys like Zynga don't benefit."
In fact, the bigger story in gambling remains Macau— explaining why the heavily Macau-exposed Las Vegas Sands is Benyon's favorite pick in the sector, earning an "overweight" rating and a $60 price target. Benyon doesn't think Zynga can do anything to jeopardize that. In fact, he also rates MGM Resorts "overweight," as he believes it will benefit from a Las Vegas resurgence.
U.S. Digital Gaming's Bronson, too, doubts that Zynga can take share from the existing casino companies. "States will give licenses to existing gambling interests. They will go to existing casinos, to Indian tribes—those are the biggest political contributors. And that's going to happen in every state," Bronson said.
Even if Zynga is able to make online gambling happen in the U.S., one big problem will remain, according to Wedbush analyst Michel Pachter.
"The big prize is not poker, the big prize is slot machines," he said. And while their existing user base gives Zynga an advantage in online poker, "they don't have any particular skill or competitive advantage in slots."
That's why, even though Pachter has a "Buy" rating on the stock and a $4 price target, he believes that "The casinos right now have an advantage over Zynga."
All in all, "I think the Zynga thing is way overrated," Bronson said. "Of course, I might be a little biased— I bought the stock at fifteen."
—By CNBC's Alex Rosenberg