Legal online gambling has been crushed by lawmakers because of its social stigma and opportunity for illegal activity. But with the success of Facebook apps like Zynga and Farmville, those barriers may be a thing of the past.
Why? Because of the estimated $100 billion annual revenue these wildly popular games could generate for Facebook.
At a time when Congress is squeezing every nickel and investors are looking for new ways to earn mountains of cash, those numbers make a very persuasive argument to allow consenting adults to lose their shirts if they want to.
Despite the efforts of US lawmakers to prevent the spread of online gambling, it's one of the biggest segments of the Internet, with millions of gamblers trying their luck whether it's legal or not. Like the Old West, it's one thing to make a law and another to enforce it.
Facebook apps like Farmville and Zynga, while on the surface seemingly harmless and free of charge, instill an appetite for gambling in their addicted players and generate millions in illegal cash already. And, so far, all tax-free.
Like the old-time gumball slots, which technically paid off in candy, what's to stop hard-core players from substituting real cash payouts?
It's those billions left on the table (or under it?) which has Congress reconsidering the online gambling issue and starting to come around. Legislation moving through both Houses is being looked at more favorably, and it seems the temptation is just too great.
So look for Zynga to change the landscape out there as the day draws near when gambling on the web is legal and will probably become the biggest sector for earnings on the Internet. Even bigger than the porn industry, the secret cash cow being milked but not talked about.
After all, what happens in Farmville, stays in Farmville...