You can now win real money by playing GameHouse Casino Plus on Facebook.  Has online gambling been legalized overnight?  No, not yet (but you would think it had by all of the excited social and online gambling chatter this week at Casual Connect: USA). Instead, RealNetworks has announced a rather clever integration of a monthly sweepstakes into its social gaming product.

Here’s how it works: When you play any game in GameHouse Casino, you’ll randomly earn golden tickets. Players can earn up to ten golden tickets per day. Once you reach three golden tickets, you can enter into a monthly sweepstakes to win up to $100,000.   

There is, of course, a catch.  The cash sweepstakes is only available in 31 states (and Washington DC), and you must be 18 years or older. If you live in the other 29 states, or anywhere else in the world, that $100,000 will remain out of your reach. Still, GameHouse doesn’t want to leave you completely out of the sweepstakes fun: you can still enter to win a monthly virtual coin sweepstakes. Hitting the jackpot there should allow you to play GameHouse Casino for free for a very long time – unless you decide to bet it all on a particularly unlucky hand of Blackjack, that is.

Speaking with RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser and the Vice President of GameHouse Studios Ken Murphy, it’s clear that a lot of thought went into this product.  And I suppose it would have to – anytime you combine games of chance with valuable prizes, you run into thorny legality issues on a state-by-state basis.

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There is a three-pronged process to ensure that all entrants and winners meet eligibility requirements:  One, the company uses geo-fencing technology to ensure users are living in a state where the sweepstakes is legal.  Two, users must validate a form each time they enter sweepstakes (the first time they must enter their information, and thereafter it is stored and verifiable).  Three, a third party auditor picks the monthly winner and physically verifies age and address.

But why marry social casinos with sweepstakes? According to Glaser, GameHouse decided to enter the social casino space because the game mechanic (slots, blackjack) are so universally well-known that anyone can play without instructions.  The problem, though, is that it’s hard to differentiate gameplay in an increasingly crowded space.  The best ways to stand out are to have first mover advantage (which is too late), incorporate brands, or do something fresh and unique.  GameHouse opted for the latter, which has resulted is their sweepstakes idea.  

It’s interesting that GameHouse is making this announcement the same week Zynga has sworn off entering the gambling market. This doesn’t mean that Zynga or others may not follow suit and add sweepstakes to their casino games.  The problem is that this will not be something that can be cloned overnight.  Having worked on sweepstakes and skill based games in the past, I can attest that the one thing as tough as the technical challenges are legal barriers.  If GameHouse Casino Plus works as seamlessly as they say it does, they may have a winner.

GameHouse Casino Plus is launching inside of their popular GameHouse Casino on Facebook today. An iOS and Android version are in the works.