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Zynga Has to Put Real Money on the Online Poker Table, or Else

Correction: Corrects the third paragraph to say CEO Mark Scheinberg's father Isai, not Mark Scheinberg, is under indictment for allegedly violating U.S. banking laws.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Zynga (ZNGA - Get Report) is facing a newly well-heeled rival across the online poker table. If it wants to win this game it had better start adding real money to the pot.

Fueled with equity and debt financing from Deutsche Bank (DB), Barclays Plc (BCS), Macquarie Group (MIC) and Blacksone Group (BX), Amaya Gaming Group (AMYGF) announced the acquisition of Oldford Group, the largest real money poker casino. Oldford Group owns Rational Group, the operator of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

The deal values Oldford Group at $4.9 billion, with founder and CEO Mark Scheinberg leaving Oldford Group. Isai Scheinberg, Mark Scheinberg's father, is under U.S. federal indictment for allegedly violating banking laws designed to prohibit online poker sites. Isai Scheinberg denies any wrongdoing and is hopeful for a future settlement. Rational Group's other executives will remain.

The purchase also provides a new and updated metric to value Zynga. According to, Zynga is the number one play money poker site. PokerStars is number two with about half, and Full Tilt arrives as the fourth largest free money site with one third as many players.

Zynga also offers real money poker but hasn't expanded beyond the U.K. market where it's licensed. Zynga's latest real money poker expansion was to offer a portal through long-term partner Facebook (FB). Last week, Zynga launched play money Zynga Poker Leagues.

Zynga needs to expand its real money poker offering not only because it's leaving a tremendous amount of money on the table (no pun intended), but also, the company doesn't want to risk the window of opportunity closing.

If the company expands its market while converting 15% of the current free money player base into live money players, Zynga real money poker will become the second-most-popular real money poker site. PokerStars has a seven-day average of 15,000 users and 18,500 real money players.

888poker is currently ranked number two in real money poker with 1,900 real money players and only 600 play money users. PartyPoker is number three for play money at 11,000 users and 1700 real money players.

PartyPoker's numbers are especially interesting because Zynga poker utilizes's network and software, same as PartyPoker. If Zynga can achieve half the success of PokerStars' 2013 $1.1 billion in revenue and $420 million in non-GAAP earnings, then the poker franchise should be worth about half of PokerStars $4.9 billion price tag.

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