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Paul Thelen
Paul Thelen

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – It’s a tumultuous time for the social casino market. As real-money gambling heads to the Internet in fits and starts, companies that make casino-style social games might seem best positioned to capitalize on the Internet gambling trend. But the leader of one of those companies, Big Fish CEO Paul Thelen, cautions that social gaming and gambling are very different pursuits.

“A social casino is no more gambling than FarmVille or Candy Crush,” Thelen said during a panel on the topic at the GamesBeat conference today.

While all of the social casino companies on stage today (including RealNetworks’ GameHouse ) saw the promise of allowing users to gamble for real money, they weren’t as eager to see the regulations that come with that change. Imposing the rules of real-money gambling on the social gaming industry would give an edge to companies like Caesars Interactive and IGT (parent of Seattle-based DoubleDown Interactive), which already have employees who are charged with navigating the regulatory landscape for gambling.

For companies like Seattle-based Big Fish, that could be a bigger challenge, which may help to explain why the company’s CEO wants to distance social casino games from their real-money counterparts.

Thelen’s perspective is also driven by data that came out of Big Fish’s experiment with real-money gambling in Britain. People interested in real money gambling aren’t necessarily the same as those who want to play a social casino game.

“The psychographic needs that social gaming provides versus real money gaming are completely different,” he said. “Social gamers are there, it’s a giant MMO, they’re hanging out with friends and they’re loving it, they’re doing cool social things, (but) people in real money gaming, they want to win.”

[Editor’s Note: DoubleDown Interactive is a GeekWire annual sponsor.]

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