Bally’s bets on Israeli start-up for social gaming

Bally’s bets on Israeli start-up for social gaming

The Las Vegas gambling giant moves into a new, lucrative field with the acquisition of Tel Aviv’s Dragonplay

Screenshot of Dragonplay's Live Hold'em game (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Screenshot of Dragonplay's Live Hold'em game (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Bally’s, a producer of casino equipment, is dipping its toe into the social gaming space with the acquisition of Tel Aviv-based gaming start-up Dragonplay Ltd., a maker of casino-style social apps for iOS, Android and Facebook. It’s the first acquisition by the company, properly called Bally Technologies, into social gaming. In its acquisition announcement, Bally’s said it would pay up to $100 million for Dragonplay.

With the move, Bally’s becomes the second major Las Vegas casino gaming brand to enter social gaming via an Israeli company. In 2011, Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE), the online gambling division of Caesars Entertainment, acquired Israeli gaming company Playtika, which, like Dragonplay, publishes most of the top social gaming products for Facebook and mobile platforms.

Dragonplay ranks among the 10 highest-grossing game developers in the social casino genre, with approximately 700,000 daily active users and nearly three million monthly active users across all platforms. In the “Card” category on Google Play, Dragonplay’s poker game Live Hold’em Pro is ranked No. 1 in the top-grossing category. In the Google Play’s “Casino” category, Dragonplay Slots is a top 10 performer in terms of active users.

Social gaming, in which players participate in casino-style games without betting money, has emerged as one of the most popular forms of entertainment on Facebook and for mobile devices. Users don’t put up money to play, though they can spend money on virtual goods to enhance their playing experience. For example, Live Hold’em Pro allows players to send virtual chips, diamonds, drinks and almost 200 other items to other players. Players pay for these items via Google Wallet.

According to its annual financial statement, Dragonplay generated over $10 million in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, including share-based compensation) for the 12 months ending on March 31, 2014, on revenue of $30 million. Dragonplay was founded in 2010. In 2012, the firm secured $14 million in Series A funding from Accel Partners. The company has 70 employees.

Bally’s, whose main business has been the manufacturing of gambling equipment and casino-management systems, enters a space that others have found to be at least as lucrative as straight casino gambling. In a recent interview, Elad Kushnir, vice president of business development at Israeli gaming start-up Playtika, said that, because social gaming is not gambling, it’s not subject to the same regulations online casinos are and has a much larger potential audience.

Playtika’s main competition, said Kushnir, is not online slot machines or card games, but apps like Candy Crush, the wildly popular online game by King Entertainment, which recently went public with a valuation of $7.6 billion. “The main demographic for Candy Crush, as well as for our games, is a 40-year-old woman from middle America,” said Kushnir. In 2013, CIE posted $316.6 million in revenue, up from $207.7 million just a year earlier. As part of CIE, Playtika has grown in four years from a small operation with a dozen employees in Israel to have 700 employees, with offices in California, Canada, Romania, Belarus and Beijing, said Kushnir.

With the Dragonplay acquisition, Bally’s hopes to stake a claim in this lucrative market for itself, said Bally’s CEO Richard Haddrill. “We expect this strategic acquisition to help position Bally at the forefront of social casino gaming by leveraging our world-class content, including proprietary table games and award-winning video slots, on Dragonplay’s increasingly popular social casino,” he said. “Additionally, with the majority of its revenues generated from smartphones and tablets, Dragonplay has proven remarkable foresight and leadership in the mobile space, which is the fastest-growing segment of social gaming.”

According to Dragonplay CEO Sharon Tal, “Dragonplay and Bally share complementary cultures focused on innovation and user experience. Both companies are committed to providing unique and stimulating content to players across the globe that enjoy playing entertaining casino-style games. I am confident that leveraging Bally’s vast library of proven slot and proprietary table game content will provide our loyal player base with an even more robust experience, which is expected to augment Dragonplay’s growth trajectory.”

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