Saturday October 8, 2011 : U.S. GAMBLING GIANT TO ENTER SOCIAL GAMING SECTOR
 
MGM Resorts to launch an internet casino game aimed at bringing more players to its tables
 
The Global Gaming Expo currently running in Las Vegas continues to provide a stream of industry-relevant stories as top executives in the business talk about their views and projects.
 
On Wednesday MGM Resorts chief exec, Jim Murren, took centre stage with his disclosure that his company is moving into the internet social gaming sector soon in an initiative that it hopes will bring more players into its land casinos.
 
Murren disclosed that MGM will soon announce the launch of a brand new social media game that will hopefully have the same pulling power as Zynga's runaway success Farmville, in which users participate to build up a farmyard enterprise…the difference will be that MGM's offering will empower users to become virtual casino executives, developing a thriving business with immersive games.
 
The idea of a "casino mogul" game is not exactly new, and there is even a software product out there based on the concept, but you can see where Murren is coming from, given the fascination that gamers appear to have with building everything from farms to empires.
 
Murren expanded on the idea, saying: "The demographics of [internet] gamers are really right in the strike zone of the gaming industry."
 
The executive's company is among those major land operators and members of the AGA known to favour the legalization of internet poker in the United States, and this new venture will be followed with considerable interest by the online gambling industry.
 
Also grabbing the headlines at G2E was South Point Casino owner Michael Gaughan, who made good on his promise last month to launch a new "free-to-play" internet poker facility (see previous InfoPowa report) at the show.
 
The idea is to build brand awareness and interest in internet poker in preparation for the long-hoped-for Nevada legalization and subsequent real money action.
 
The launch is initially restricted to members of South Point's casino loyalty program, but will be opened up to the general public on October 17.
 
Gaughan told a Wall Street Journal reporter that the site is a first step in being ahead of the pack if federal or state lawmakers decide to explicitly allow casinos to operate Internet poker.
 
"It's kind of a gamble," said Gaughan, who plans to promote the casino by giving away cash and prizes, including funds for one player to take a seat at next year's $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker main event.
 
"I don't know that much about online poker and I'm trying to learn about it with a free site," he said, adding that he has been working with Nevada gambling regulators to ensure he is ready for any future legalization of online poker in the state.
 
Gaughan said he thinks things will move quickly toward legalization, and he wants to be ready.
 
"I think it would help business at the South Point and I think I could make money with it as a poker site," Gaughan said.
 
Teresa Zellhoefer, deputy enforcement chief for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, told the WSJ that regulators regarded the South Point site as primarily a promotional tool. The regulator had asked how the site would arbitrate disputes in games and keep information about hands played, and it took into consideration new state rules the control board has been drafting since state lawmakers asked for new regulations on internet poker earlier this year.
 
"It was kind of a precursor to getting the big ball rolling," said Zellhoefer, noting that the board didn't have to formally approve the site because it doesn't involve real-money gambling.
 
The Journal notes that Caesars Entertainment Corp. has been running a free poker site for two years branded through the World Series of Poker, which it owns, with games also available on Facebook and mobile platforms. The site signs up thousands of players weekly and is approaching 1 million total user accounts, World Series of Poker spokesman Seth Palansky told WSJ.
 
Nevada regulators have also cleared Caesars' business ties with 888 Holdings in Europe to create Caesars online gambling for real money in Great Britain