If 2014 shapes up as anything unique for casino operators it will be from the impact of virtual gaming on the land-based business in the U.S. After years of conjecture and educated guesses on whether land-based gaming can profitably co-exist with for-money online gaming and social gaming, real-world case studies are being written as we enter the New Year. It promises to be interesting.

Of course, certain vendors are ahead of the game, particularly those that are operating online businesses in Europe or social gaming platforms globally. A leader in that respect is International Games Technology (IGT) and its DoubleDown Casino, the world’s largest social casino which now operates in partnership with over 50 land-based casinos in the U.S. and as a stand-alone business. It contributed $219 million in revenue to IGT in FY2013. Facebook has named DoubleDown Casino as one of its Hall of Fame Games; one of only four games to get that distinction. There was only one other social casino (Candy Crush) designated.

All told, it has six million players in the U.S., so it was a welcome bit of news last month when IGT announced the release of its 2013 social casino index. Among the findings:

• Social casino players are mostly women between the ages of 45 and 55 and women played on average 30 percent more virtual chips per session than men.

• The top five states in terms of player concentration were North Dakota, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Wyoming.

• Players in California, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania played the most amounts of virtual chips.

• Players in Hawaii were most likely to use a mobile device; Maine the least.

• Players are most active between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

I explored some of these and other findings with John Clelland, VP of global marketing, IGT Interactive Group, starting with the motivation for compiling the Index.

“The Social Casino Index gives the gaming industry a truly detailed look at social casino player preferences at a time when the questions the industry is asking have gone from ‘how big is this?’ to, ‘is this a threat?’” said Clelland. “People are choosing to engage with social game play and our hope is that it will result in future visits to a land-based casino.”

The opportunities are there, if you take the benevolent view, that social gamers are using low-cost, virtual chip-based gaming as a supplement to the real thing. “Our top five player concentration states all have a very healthy land-based casino base,” said Clelland. “Whether it’s the Strip in Las Vegas or the tribal casinos in those other top markets, these are places where land-based casinos are very prevalent and have a strong business. People are used to seeing titles like Wolf Run, Siberian Storm, Cleopatra. Those are games they see at casinos and can play on DoubleDown. A big part of what we’re seeing here is the awareness of the games and the love of that kind of entertainment.”

The findings regarding mobile devices were fairly straightforward. “Hawaii has very good mobile service; effectively all of the state is covered because there’s not much land mass,” said Clelland. “In Maine, the primary markets are covered but as you get farther north the wireless coverage gets spotty fast. The biggest driver in the coming year will be the shift to mobile and the role that it will play.”

Mobile played a role on the peak times findings as well. “Commuters, people playing on the train and busses as they go home from work is one of the things that drives that; it’s what mobile gaming is really good for,” said Clelland. “It’s filling in those times in-between, when you want to be entertained but are not necessarily sitting at a computer and or have access to one. That’s one point to make to the land-based audience; these are incremental occasions. People are engaging with available gaming entertainment but as an occasion that is complimentary.”

 What makes these conversations relevant is there’s no way anyone isn’t touched by them. Whether your jurisdiction has, or will have, legal for-money gaming online, social gaming is a fact of life everywhere. Gaming fits with where the world is headed, but there is no template for connecting the dots in a commercially rewarding way. Every industry that has been touched by the online world has been fundamentally altered by it. U.S. land-based casinos are next. Here’s to a constructively interesting New Year.