Zynga  competitor Big Fish, whose popular Card Ace: Casino iPhone app attracts one million monthly active players, will now let players bet real money on games of slots--and cash out their winnings. (Real-money play for poker, blackjack, and roulette are on the way.) The games company has partnered with Betable , a U.K.-based real-money gaming platform, and launched a rebranded app called Big Fish Casino, which debuts today. Real-money play is only available for the U.K. version of Big Fish Casino, because that's where Betable holds approved gambling licenses that make it fair game.
Big Fish Casino, whose offerings combine aspects of traditional casino games with social features such as real-time chatting and gift-giving options, marks the potential start of a race within social gaming companies toward real-money play, which is extraordinarily more lucrative at a lifetime value of $1,800 per gamer, compared with just $2 over the lifetime of a casual social gamer. “We have a strong conviction that mobile apps that combine social and real-money gambling are a powerful way to engage more users and increase overall monetization,” Big Fish CEO Paul Thelen said in a press release. No doubt Zynga's thinking the same: In July, CEO Mark Pincus told analysts to expect a real-money online poker game  in the first half of 2013.
Of course, this all means little for gamers in the U.S., where real-money online gambling is still illegal. But if it takes off overseas, that may be enough impetus for gaming companies to spearhead changes to prohibitive state and federal laws around real-money online gambling. In fact, Zynga has begun investing in lobbying efforts  to do just that.
[Image: Flickr user gfpeck ]