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Ever since the Justice Department opened the door to the legalization of online gambling, the leading creators of social games are feeling increasingly lucky. PopCap Games just launched Lucky Gem Casino with a collection of seven slot machines themed after its brands such as Bejeweled and Zuma. It marks the entry of the Electronic Arts subsidiary into the increasingly active casino game market.

Leading Facebook game publisher Zynga is adding Bingo and Slingo to its Zynga Casino family, which already features the most successful Facebook Poker game with more than 30 million active monthly users. Traditional gambling companies are quickly moving into the market as well. In January, slot machine maker International Game Technology acquired Facebook casino game publisher Double Down for $500 million.

The current crop of luck-based Facebook games are legal in the US because there is no way to cash out the virtual earnings. In Lucky Gem Casino players can purchase additional coins for real money, using the Facebook Credits system. But even if they hit the jackpot, payouts occur only in virtual currency and can’t be converted back into cash.

The big prize for social game makers could arrive when more states follow Nevada’s example and legalize online gambling, a move made possible after a Justice Department ruling in December that allows online betting as long as it does not involve sports. Companies who have already gathered large player communities could see revenue boosts if social game platforms allow money payouts.

Though the initial release version is limited to slot machines, PopCap pledged “to evolve Lucky Gem Casino to enhance the experience, add more games [and] community features” — which sounds a lot like the ideas behind Zynga Casino. PopCap VP Dennis Ryan also promises they will be “enlivening traditional casino games with our franchises,” as seen in the Bejeweled Spin slot machine. All of a sudden, a Plants vs. Zombies poker table doesn’t seem quite such a far-fetched idea.

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