DoubleDown's Decent Bet

The Fremont-based online casino is drawing all aces so far.

At roughly 500,000 users a day—the vast majority from Facebook—Seattle's own DoubleDown Casino is, to all outward appearances, a smashing and largely unheralded success. CEO Greg Enell says the idea first came to him and his two co-founders after they witnessed the rise in popularity of free online poker. "Why don't we come out with blackjack and roulette and slots and every other game besides poker and fill that void?" is the thought Enell says occurred to them. That was less than two years ago. Today, their company, Double Down Interactive, with 46 employees, Fremont offices overlooking Lake Union, and two million Facebook users per month, is perched profitably atop the heap of free online casino games. The secret sauce of DoubleDown is its virtual currency. Every day, a player can expect from $50,000 to $60,000 in free virtual chips—up from $1,000 at its launch in 2009. Maximum bets in blackjack are $5 million per hand, and in slots up to $1 million per spin. To get into high-dollar games like those, players can buy 150,000 chips for $3 or up to 100 million chips for $99. In other words, the site operates on a freemium model, with more than 90 percent of users playing for free and the remainder putting in actual money. In addition to the obvious advantage of getting to play longer, ponying up real cash enables customers to enjoy an inflated sense of self-worth. "The numbers are big and it's done that way by design," says Enell before unintentionally summarizing America in two sentences. "We want [paying customers] to feel like they're rich. We want to give them the VIP experience." At its inception, DoubleDown introduced a multiple-player blackjack game on Facebook. It followed this with roulette, then slots, and eventually poker. This week, it unveiled a new tournament slots game, where players compete in flights of 100 to finish in the top 10 to win bonus virtual cash. As he chatted on the phone, Enell acknowledged that his attention was somewhat divided. He was playing in one of his slot tournaments, Jewels of the Dragon, against 99 others. And how was it going? "I'm in 32nd place right now," he said. But with a number of spins remaining, he still had "the opportunity to finish in the top 10." Enell says he doesn't worry that his site might lead users to gamble more in real life, because, as he points out, it's not as if people are wagering their paychecks. When they lose $5 million on a hand of blackjack, they've really only lost what it might cost to get lunch at Jimmy John's. He's also not worried about slowing down anytime soon. The number of players at DoubleDown has increased by 25 percent in the past two months alone. Which makes the company not only a good bet, but one of the few that's actually hiring.

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